We read in Parashat Vayeishev the tragic story of Yosef’s sale as a slave by his brothers, which occurred when their father, Yaakov, sent Yosef to Shekhem where his brothers were tending to their herds. Yaakov asked Yosef, “Please go and see the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the sheep, and report back to me” (37:14).
As Seforno notes, if Yaakov simply wanted information about the wellbeing of his sons and the flocks, he could have sent one of his many servants. The fact that Yaakov sent specifically Yosef, Seforno comments, must mean that he sought more than a simple report about their welfare. Seforno explains that Yaakov was telling Yosef, “See with your intelligence, and correct any wrongdoing if there’s a need.” In other words, Yaakov wanted to Yosef to not merely observe his brothers, but to see what improvements were needed in their behavior and work to make these improvements.
Seemingly, Seforno here refers to Yosef’s habit mentioned earlier (37:2) of bringing Yaakov unflattering reports about his brothers. Now that the brothers had moved far away, to Shekhem, with the flocks, Yaakov decided to send Yosef to travel to Shekhem so he could look after them and try to correct any misbehavior he saw them doing. It seems that Yaakov suspected, or at least had concerns, that his sons were acting improperly, and so he sent Yosef to oversee their conduct while shepherding their herds.
However, Rav Yaakov Moshe Rabinowitz, in his Yemin Yaakov, suggests a different explanation of Seforno’s comments. He writes that to the contrary, Yaakov sent Yosef to his brothers in an effort to ease the tensions, to show Yosef that he was wrong in his negative assessment of them. Yaakov told Yosef to check for misbehavior so that he will see that his brothers were not, in fact, misbehaving. Rav Rabinowitz suggests that when Seforno speaks of Yaakov instructing Yosef to “correct any wrongdoing” (“takein kol me’uvat”), this might refer to correcting Yosef’s distorted perception of his brothers’ conduct. Yaakov sent Yosef to oversee his brothers not to find what they were doing wrong, but to realize that they were not acting wrongly, and that Yosef should thus view them more favorably.
Indeed, Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in his Tiferet Shlomo, explains Yaakov’s instruction to Yosef, “Leikh na re’ei et shelom achekha” (“Please go and see the welfare of your brothers”) to mean that he wanted Yosef to see their piety, their good qualities. He urged Yosef to stop looking to find fault in his brothers, and to instead see only “shelom achekha” – their “wholeness,” all that was good about them. The Rebbe of Radomsk adds that Yaakov’s instruction, “va-hashiveini davar” (literally, “bring me back word”) alludes to teshuva, the process of returning to God, and points to a connection between viewing people positively and repentance. When we ensure not to find fault in others, and to instead focus our attention on their admirable qualities, we earn God’s assistance to correct our own faults and properly repent. By seeing “shelom achekha,” the goodness of our brethren, rather than their flaws, we become better able to “return” and perform teshuva.