We have all had the humbling experience of approaching someone who is angry with us and trying to offer an explanation. At the climax of the saga between the sons of Jacob, Joseph plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag and uses this as a premise to keep Benjamin in his custody. Not knowing the full plot, Judah intercedes on behalf of Benjamin and offers himself in place of his brother.
Judah begins his plea by crying out to Joseph in Genesis 44:18, “Do not be angry with your servant!” The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, Prague, 1550-1619) explains that anger brings about error in judgment. If Joseph cannot cool his anger to listen to Judah’s story, he is liable to judge him unfairly.
If we want to be heard by others, we must take into account their emotional state and be sensitive to their capacity to process our words. And, if we want to act without bias towards others, we must acknowledge our own emotions and their impact on our ability to hear the truth in what others say.
Rabbi Sara Rich is the Director of Education at the Center for Jewish Life – Hillel at Princeton University.