5769 - #12
Commentators generally understand that Yosef’s plan, in his interaction with his brothers upon their initial venture to Egypt to secure supplies for the family, was to effect teshuva within the brothers for their previous treatment of him.1 The revelation by Yosef of who he really was,2 thus, was continuously understood by me to be a declaration of the success of this effort. The impassioned plea of Yehuda in Bereishit 44:18-34, somehow, indicated to Yosef that the brothers had done teshuva and so Yosef, no longer able to control himself as there was no further reason to control himself, declared who he was. Recently, though, someone shared with me another understanding of Yosef’s revelation, predicated on the belief that Yosef was actually not totally successful in his plan. The verse, according to this view, states, powerfully, that Yosef could not contain himself any more, specifically because there was still a rational reason for Yosef not to share his identity with his brothers – he had not fulfilled his objective in regard to the teshuva of his brothers. The mistrust that the brothers had towards Yosef, upon their father, Yaakov’s, death,3 is further presented as a support for this theory.
The Torah informs us that the brothers were concerned that, after Yaakov’s death, Yosef, perhaps still feeing hatred for them because of what they did to him, may retaliate against them for their previous actions. Rashi, Bereishit 45:16 explains that the brothers developed this perception based upon the change in Yosef’s behaviour towards them after their father’s death. While Yaakov was alive, the brothers dined at Yosef’s table and Yosef was friendly towards them. After Yaakov’s death, this, though, was not the case. The brothers, thus, were concerned that Yosef may still have been harbouring ill feelings towards them and that while Yosef restrained these feelings while Yaakov was still alive, in order not to pain his father, there was now no further reason for Yosef to restrain himself. In that the brothers felt that Yosef still harboured negative feelings towards them, it would seem that the brothers recognized a possibility that Yosef did not accept their teshuva. If this was true, it would be somewhat difficult to understand Yosef’s revelation before his brothers as a recognition of their teshuva. Indeed, not necessarily in the mistrust of Yosef that the brothers expressed after Yaakov’s death but rather, from the negative change in Yosef’s behaviour towards them, at this time, which prompted this mistrust, there would seem to be some indication that Yosef did not believe that they had done teshuva.
Yosef’’s hurt because of the accusation of the brothers, through the presentation of a request from their father, Yaakov, that Yosef forgive them for their previous misdeeds, would seem, however, to challenge such a conclusion. Perhaps the brothers believed that Yosef had not forgiven them but this perception by the brothers does not show that Yosef indeed had not forgiven them. Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Bereishit 45:15 explains that Yosef maintained a distance from the brothers, after Yaakov’s death, in the best interests of the brothers. He felt that the Egyptians would attempt, if the brothers were perceived to be close to Yosef, to use the brothers, and this closeness to Yosef, to the detriment of the brothers. The fact that the brothers were concerned about how Yosef would respond to them does not even indicate that the brothers did not do teshuva. The only indication that we can derive from the brothers concern regarding how Yosef would now treat them is that the brothers did not perceive that their teshuva was accepted by Yosef. For this, though, Yosef still wept. Did the brothers perceive that Yosef, although recognizing that they did teshuva, would still not forgive them? Did the brothers perceive that Yosef could not see that they had done teshuva? Either way, it would seem, Yosef was hurt. Either way, it is somewhat problematic for Yosef to have been so startled by his brothers’ accusation if he did not believe that they had done teshuva. Yet, at the same time, it would seem to also be equally clear that the brothers did not expect Yosef to respond to their teshuva.
the story of the re-encounter of Yosef and his brothers in
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail
1 or to ensure that the brothers had already done teshuva.
2 Bereishit 45:1-3.
3 Bereishit 50:15-16.(c) Nishma, 2008
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