Your Other Brother, In another Year, Another Place
Despite his hesitation and qualms, at the end of the day our Father Jacob had to send his son Benjamin with his brothers to
Egypt. Jacob hoped that all his sons, Simeon included,
would return safely home. However, Jacob
did not mention the captive Simeon by name: That he may send away your
brother, the other one, and Benjamin (43:14). RaMBaN on that verse explains:
In line with the literal interpretation of Scripture, it would seem that Simeon was not a favorite of his father because of the Shechem affair. This was why he did not say, My son Simeon, and Benjamin, as he would not mention him by name, and as he left him in
for a long time. Indeed, had there been
food in his house, he would not yet have sent Benjamin, and he would have left
him [Simeon] in Egypt.
Now Rashi wrote, "the other one: the spirit of prophecy was enkindled within Jacob so as to include Joseph." In Bereishit Rabbah they also said: "That he may send away your brother: this refers to Joseph; the other one: this refers to Simeon." This is correct, for at the moment of prayer, Jacob directed his heart to pray in a general manner for the other one [Joseph] also, for perhaps he is still alive. (Chavel translation)
There are many aspects to the "other." The meaning considered literal by RaMBaN relates to the "other" in a negative light. This is reminiscent of Rabbi Meir's teacher, the Tanah Elisha Ben Avuyah, who turned bad, and became Aher the "Other," a name given him by "another" woman (Hagiga 15a). Simeon is an "other" because his father disfavored him. Simeon had adopted the ways of Esau (instruments of violence are their swords) and so Jacob declared at the end of his life, my soul, come not you into their secret deliberation, unto their assembly, my glory, be not you united. By his actions, he excluded himself from the congregation of
became "other." This otherness is reminiscent of an interesting
comment on the expression "other gods" that appears in the Tannaitic Midrash
Sifri on parashat Ekev (chapter 43): "And why were they called "other
gods"? That they make their worshippers become other." Other
gods change their worshippers into "others". "Otherness"
here means ‘alien-ness’. The midrashic meaning of other chosen by Rashi to
explain the word aher relates to a hidden, unconscious level of
communication between Jacob and his sons. The mysterious, and hidden other
is Joseph, who Jacob desired to see alive. Joseph was also other (And the
boy was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah), the other,
hidden brother, which reminds us of Mordecai's words to Esther in the Book of
Esther: Relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.
Balak suggests that Balaam go to another place where he might succeed in
(Bamidbar 23). The other place is hidden and mysterious like the hidden
and mysterious other brother who exists in Jacob's secret hopes (Rashi
brings the midrashic dictum in his comments on Bereishit 37:35: "But he
refused to comfort himself - A person does not accept consolation for
one still living whom he believes to be dead").
The Holy One, Blessed be He, announced to Abraham that in another year Sarah will give birth to Isaac. When Adam (Avodah Zara 8a) understood that the world continues in its way, and that there exist cycles in the world of nature, he instituted festivals "in another year." The holiday of Hanukkah was proclaimed to be observed as a festival of thanksgiving "in another year" (Shabbat 21b), a year after the miracle took place. The "other" year is a year for maturation, for gaining perspective, and for fulfilling the potential which leaves room for faith. The potential of "otherness" can sometimes be missed and the "other" year allows us to test the meaning of processes for the long run, together with faith in "another place" that recognizes the possibility of change. Simeon is an "other" because his actions changed him into another, Joseph is an "other" because he was made so by his brothers and also because he represents yearning and the hope for a different world that is unseen of yet. His dreams changed him to an "other" and his ability to adduce the meaning of dreams, to listen to the dreams of others, brought him to the high office he reached in
for the good of Egypt,
of his family, and of the entire region.
The holiday of Hanukkah enjoys great popularity in the Zionist myth because the "New Hebrew" (the "other"?) saw himself as heir to the Maccabaeus. The strong and fighting Israeli stands in contrast to the Galut Jew; he identifies with the Maccabeans. Generations of Israelis have been inculcated with the ethos of "the few against many." This extreme glorification of military power may haves served a necessary motivational and functional role in the first years of Israeli sovereignty. However, the unchanging focus on force and on the holiday's military aspects turns Hannukah into a festival that glorifies Simeon, the "other," instead of turning our attention to the other, more exalted significance of the return to
The extreme opponents of Zionism in the Haredi world from the school of the Satmar Rebbe, saw in it a rebellion against the nations of the world that could not contain the aggressive elements of Jewish society because it contradicts the four oaths that the Holy One Blessed be He made
swear to (Ketuvot 111a). The Zionist movement wanted to return the Jewish
People to history and was willing to play according to the accepted rules of
every movement of national freedom. The danger of glorifying "Simeon,"
the "other" brother, and turning the Zionist dream into "other"
gods, who make their worshippers other, by "cutting down the
saplings" (kitzutz ba'nitiyot – heresy, as was committed by Aher,
who presumed to understand the ways of Heaven)
is a real danger and must not be disregarded.
The needed "otherness" is an "otherness" which leaves room for the realistic faith that accompanies hope with doubts and fear. True, the Halakhah rules according to Beit Hillel and we are commanded to add light and hope, but we should not forget the Gemara's explanation of why Halakhah rules according to Beit Hillel (Eruvin 13b): "Why was Beit Hillel worthy of having the Halakhah set according to them? Because they are easygoing and modest and recite their dicta together with the words of Beit Shammai, and even recite the dicta of Beit Shammai before their own." In a beit midrash run in accordance with Beit Hillel, room is given to Beit Shammai to say that "fewer and fewer" lamps are lit with each new Hanukkah eve. Such a beit midrash is prepared to accept and respect the other.
Joseph's realistic take on the vision of the future allows him (the "other" brother according to the midrash) to dream, to listen to the dreams of others, and to understand them - but also to translate them into action (and now let Pharaoh find an understanding and wise man).
I feel that we are still in "the other year" in which we can hope for a better world, in which we can overcome the dangers of "Simeonian otherness," in which we can learn to treat others (minorities, aliens, converts, other peoples) with respect.
And in Ehud Manor's phrasing:
I have no other country, even if my land is ablaze.
Only a Hebrew word can penetrate my veins, my soul
In a pained body and hungry heart
This is my home.
I will not be silent when my country changes face
I will not concede to her,
I shall remind her, and here I will sing into her ears
Until she opens her eyes.