When Joseph cannot find his brothers in the field where his father sent him to spy on them, “a man” tells him they’ve gone to Dothan. And when Judah tries to skirt his responsibilities to his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and sneak away for the sheep-shearing, “it was told to Tamar” that he was headed up to Timnah. Who did all of this tattling?
Turns out, suggests the midrash, it was angels. Yup, that’s right, Gabriel himself told Joseph where to find his plotting brothers (Genesis Rabbah), and an unnamed angel told Tamar of Judah’s whereabouts (Midrash HaGadol) (and if you haven’t encountered the midrash at Tamar’s near-execution, it’s a wild story worth exploring!).
These angels certainly move the plot forward. And, arguably, they ultimately serve to bring to light matters that characters in the story wrongfully attempt to keep hidden. But, sometimes, they’re just stirring up the proverbial stuff.
How can we not only listen for the voices of the angels in our lives, but also consider carefully the ways in which our speech can serve both to further and to hinder peace between folks in our communities? Perhaps the stories of Joseph and Tamar can serve as a starting point to speak in a constructive and pastoral way about the benefits and the dangers of truth-telling.
Rabbi Nikki Lyn DeBlosi is the Reform rabbi and senior Jewish educator for NYU Hillel, Bronfman Center.