Sins of the Past

Joseph and his brothers try to move on.

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Today's Family Traumas

By adopting their own subtle balance between confronting and suppressing earlier events, the biblical family was able to work through the traumas of the past. Similar approaches are utilized today in recovering from some of the profound family traumas caused by war. Today, an estimated 300,000 children are engaged in warfare around the globe--many having been abducted from their families or forced under threat of violence to join a militia group. These children visit the most destructive sins upon members of their own communities, and sometimes, their own families. To be sure, unlike  Joseph's brothers, who were driven by jealousy, child soldiers act not out of any personal motivation, but because they are exploited and forced against their will. Elias, a former Congolese child soldier testifies: “We were often asked to kill people. I witnessed some of my fellow child soldiers being ordered to kill their parents or be killed themselves.”

Those children fortunate enough to outlive their armed conflicts then face the challenges of reintegration. Returning to their home communities, demobilized child soldiers must encounter those against whom they were forced to commit violent acts, possibly within their own families. Even if the soldiers are accepted back into their families, tension and trauma persist.

In some post-conflict and post-genocide communities, there is a focus on truth and justice, an effort to document wrongdoing and hold the perpetrators accountable. Although noble in intention, the process of uncovering the truth--especially when it concerns atrocities committed by brothers against brothers--may in fact exacerbate lingering ethnic, political or personal hostilities. In some cases, therefore, the search for truth takes a back seat in the pursuit of reconciliation, leaving stories untold and crimes unprosecuted in the hope of allowing communities to move forward. Certainly, there is no one model that fits all circumstances, but some combination of approaches may be effective in each particular case. 

In the story of Joseph and his brothers, we find a delicate interplay of confessing and concealing, dwelling upon and moving on. Overcoming fraternal violence is indeed complex and challenging, and resentment and trauma may be difficult to overcome. The biblical text, with its ambiguity, multiple approaches for achieving reconciliation and, above all, focus on establishing peace, provides us with a kind of script for achieving reconciliation in the many areas of conflict in our world. Pursuing peace in this way, prioritizing resolution over continuing tension, enables us to fulfill the words of the psalmist: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony.”

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Daniel Bloom

Daniel Bloom is an Australian-born environmentalist who currently works as a program associate at Hazon. He lives with his wife in New York City.