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05.01.2020 16:45    Comments: 0    Categories: Weekly Parashah      Tags: torah  shabbat  parasha  genesis  vayigash  

Joseph Makes Himself Known to His Brothers

Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!”  So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  (Gen. 45:1)

Judah stands up to Joseph

The brothers believed that Benjamin had stolen Joseph’s goblet, nevertheless they did not abandon him but were willing to lay down their lives for him.  The primary spokesman was Judah, the leader and most forceful of the brothers.  He was prepared to be enslaved just to free Benjamin and restore him to his father.  Judah felt that great moral responsibility rested on his shoulders, for he saw that his brothers held him to blame for selling Joseph.

Seeing that he [Jacob] was so lamentive, refusing to be consoled, his sons went to Judah and said, “You brought all this great trouble upon us.”  He said to them, “I said, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother?’ and you dare say I brought this upon us?!”  The said to him, “Did we not heed you?  You said, ‘Come let us sell him to the Ishmaelites,’ and we did as you said.  Had you said, ‘Let us restore him to his father,’ would we not have heeded you?”  Hence, the brothers banded together and ostracized him.  (Tanhuma [Buber ed.], Va-Yeshev, par. 8)

Judah saw that they were getting further embroiled, and that the brothers would be compelled to return to their father without Benjamin.  Judah knew that his elderly father would be utterly destroyed by such a thing happening, and so he decided to take his life in his hands and speak to Joseph in a way that expressed both forcefulness and pacification.  He was prepared to appease him verbally and to subordinate himself before him, but he was also prepared to go to battle to free Benjamin by force.

Judah spoke from the depths of his heart.  He described to Joseph the misery of his father, who had already suffered the loss of one son and now was about to lose the other.

Rapprochement with the brothers

Joseph could not withstand Judah’s open reproach.  When his father’s misery was mentioned, he was overcome by longing for his father and decided to speak openly to his brothers, removing the mask he had been wearing and admitting to them, “I am your brother Joseph” (Gen. 45:4).

Joseph knew that when he would reveal his identity to his brothers, they would be ashamed of what they had done; so he had pity on them, lest he embarrass them in front of strangers, and therefore he ordered:  “Have everyone withdraw from me!” Scripture adds, “So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.”

This should be viewed as no trifling matter.  Joseph remained alone in the face of all his brothers, thus essentially putting his own life in danger; for there was a risk that the brothers might kill him to prevent their secret from coming to light.  Nevertheless, Joseph was ready to take this risk for the sake of not embarrassing his brothers in public.

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman said:  Joseph greatly endangered himself, for if his brothers were to have killed him, no living creature would have known who he was.  So why did he say, “Have everyone withdraw from me”?  It was only that he thought to himself:  Better I should be killed than embarrass my brothers before the Egyptians.  (Tanhuma [Warsaw ed.], Va-Yigash, par. 5).

Indeed, Joseph’s brothers became ashamed when Joseph made himself known to them.

Seeing them greatly embarrassed, Joseph said to them:  “Come forward to me.” They came forward, one by one, and he kissed them and cried over them, as it is written:  “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” (Tanhumaloc. cit.)

Joseph broke down and began to cry.  This is the third time he broke out in tears, but this time great emotion and joy were intermingled in his crying, for Joseph realized that his brothers were prepared to lay down their lives in order to restore Benjamin, his beloved brother, to his father’s arms.  Even Judah’s words affected him favorably, for Judah had had the wisdom to put his words carefully.  While humbling himself before Joseph and calling himself “your servant,” he also made it clear to Joseph that this time he and his brothers had no intention of giving in.  They were prepared, with Judah himself at the lead, to struggle for Benjamin and place themselves in danger of death, going to battle against the all-powerful regent of Egypt.

Joseph, hearing Judah’s threats, rejoiced in his heart.  Why?  Because in what Judah said

The aim was to appease Joseph, to appease his brethren, and to appease Benjamin.  Joseph:  See how I give my life for Rachel’s children.  His brethren:  Said he, See how I give my life for my brother.  Benjamin:  he said to him:  As I devoted myself for my brother, so do I give myself for you.  (Genesis Rabbah [Vilna ed.], Va-Yigash 93, sec. 9)

When the brothers saw Judah’s devotion to his brother they forgave him—the brother whom they had ostracized—for not having prevented them from selling Joseph.  Even Joseph himself saw Judah as repenting; although Judah had failed when Joseph was sold into slavery, now he was prepared to give himself over as a slave just to obtain the release of his brother Benjamin.  Judah had the great distinction of bringing about reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers by his own act of devotion.

Rabbi Berakhya said in the name of Rabbi Levi:  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him [Judah]:  You humbled yourself before your younger brother for the sake of your youngest brother [for Benjamin, for he [Judah] said:  “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord” (Gen. 44:18); “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy” (Gen. 44:33)].  I swear, when the Tabernacle will be built and the tribes will come with their offerings, no one will sacrifice his offering before you.  I shall give you the honor of sacrificing first:  The one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah.  (Pesikta Rabbati, Ish Shalom ed., par. 7)

Joseph reassures his brothers

A while later, after Jacob died and the brothers returned to Egypt from having gone to bury him, they became apprehensive that Joseph might take revenge on them for all the wrongs they had done him.  Joseph, however, reassured his brothers that he bore them no grudge for all they had done and actually had kind, encouraging words for them:

But Joseph said to them, “Have no fear!...”  Thus he reassured them, speaking to their hearts (Gen. 50:19-21).  Now can a person speak to the heart?  Rather, this means that he spoke words which comfort the heart.  He said to them:  You have been likened to the dust of the earth, and who can wipe out the dust of the earth?  You have been likened to the beasts of the field, and who can wipe out the beasts of the field.  You have been likened to the stars, and who can wipe out the stars?


Rabbi Simlai said:  [Thus he said to them]:  You are the body, and I am the head; if we take away the body, what good is the head?  Moreover, until you came down here I was called a servant; but since you arrived here I was able to make my lineage known.  This being so, would I kill you?  If I were to kill you, people would say:  This man cannot be trusted, for if he did not keep faith with his brothers, with whom will he keep faith?


He said:  Shall I make myself my father’s opponent, my father begetting and I burying; or shall I become an opponent of the Holy One, blessed be He, G‑d blessing while I diminish?  Hence Scripture says, “He reassured them, speaking to their hearts.” (Genesis Rabbah, Theodore-Albeck ed., Va-Yehi, 100.9)



The merits of Rachel’s children

What a magnanimous soul Joseph was, for he restrained any desire for revenge and overcame his anger.  Not only did he harbor no hatred towards his brothers, who had done him wrong, he even forgave them wholeheartedly.  The brothers had doubts about his forgiveness and, incredulous that Joseph was no longer angry at them, they believed he harbored secretive intentions.  Joseph sensed this misgiving and therefore added:

You can see for yourselves, and my brother Benjamin for himself (Gen. 45:12)—Rabbi Eleazar said:  He said to them:  Just as I bear no malice against my brother Benjamin who had no part in my selling, so I have no malice against you.  (Megillah 16b)

This big-hearted act of Joseph’s served as Israel’s defense in later times:

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman said:  We hold a tradition that [Esau] will not fall except by the hands of Rachel’s children.  For it is written, “Surely the shepherd boys shall drag them away” (Jer. 49:20).  For if the tribes come to negotiate with Esau, saying to him:  Why did you persecute your brothers?” he will answer them:  Why did you persecute your brother Jacob?  So they were no better than he.  Having come to Joseph, Joseph said to him:  Why did you persecute your brothers?  And there was nothing Esau could answer him.  Should you say that [your brothers] did you wrong, even my brothers did me wrong, but I repaid them with good.  Esau was immediately silenced.  (Tanhuma [Buber ed.], Va-Yetze, par. 15)

Translated by Rachel Rowen

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