In a 1994 lecture on Gen. 50, Dennis Prager talked about verse 17: “And Joseph wept when they [his brothers] spoke to him.”
Dennis: The rabbis taught in a midrash — “he who shows himself merciful to his fellow man proves thereby that he is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he who is cruel to his fellow man proves that he is no descendant of theirs.”
Dennis: “Do different peoples have different traits? While I’ve always believed in the sanctity of the individual and that you can never say that this individual is a member of this group and therefore has the following traits, that is pure racism, it is silly to deny that different cultures produce characteristics.
“When Jews have defined themselves, what did they define as their best trait and worst trait? The worst trait is that they are stubborn. The positive trait that Jews have defined themselves as is merciful.
“Every Jew is merciful? Obviously not, but it is an interesting thing that the rabbis isolated that trait. If you are cruel, you’re not really a Jew.
“There is some truth to it. Israel has been at war many times. I don’t think an army in history has raped and pillaged as little as the Israeli army has.
“I don’t believe this is racial. I believe certain characteristics are engendered.
“Peter Singer points out, and I certainly have problems with his book Animal Liberation, and he can’t stand any religion, he says that while he has a lot of problems with the Bible, at least the Hebrew Bible has lots of laws on how you treat animals while the New Testament is silent on this issue.
“Cruelty to an animal is alien to the Jewish consciousness. There is a story told, even if it is not true it is interesting that it is so widespread, that a Jew in Poland being taken away to Auschwitz to be gassed, he yells out of his train to his Polish neighbor, ‘Don’t forget to feed the chickens.’
“Even as he is taken away on the train, he remembers the animals that he left.
“I speak about the importance of goodness. I attribute this to my Jewish upbringing, to being steeped in Judaism in the healthiest way. There are unhealthy ways to be steeped in Judaism and any religion.
“The Jewish predilection to compassion, even when it is misguided in political life, is derived from this definition.
“It is interesting to see how people define their own religion.
“You can see here that Joseph cries for his brothers’ pain.”