Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Did Joseph get along with his brothers?

We all focus so much on Yoseph reuniting with his family that we barely give a thought to the aftermath. What was the family dynamic AFTEr the reunification, during the last 17 years of Yaakov's life in Egypt? Did the brothers get along? What did Yaakov know of the whole episode?

One comment of the Netziv last week grabbed my attention. When Yoseph reveals his true identity to his brothers he says:

"And now, be not upset or distressed that you sold me…"

Why should the brothers be upset? The Netziv comments:

"He (Yoseph) thought that possibly… some of them, even at this point, felt that they had been correct (to sell him) but that their plan had gone wrong by selling him to Egypt, a place where one could rise to great power, rather than selling him to a more lowly destination…"

This blew my mind. The Netziv is suggesting that even after this entire saga, Yoseph at least, suspects that many of the brothers might still wish that they had disposed of him. In other words, the family scars have not healed. They are still deep and painful. Had the brothers put the family tension behind them? Could Joseph put it all behind him?


Did Yaakov ever find out what the brothers did to Yoseph?

1. See 50:15-22

And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said: 'It may be that Joseph will hate us, and will fully requite us all the evil which we did unto him.' And they sent a message unto Joseph, saying: 'Thy father did command before he died, saying: So shall ye say unto Joseph: Forgive, I pray thee now, the transgression of thy brethren, and their sin, for that they did unto thee evil. And now, we pray thee, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of thy father.' And Joseph wept when they spoke unto him.


Clearly after their father's death, the brothers are concerned about some form of retribution. Was Yoseph distant or friendly in the intervening years? Just imagine the family dynamics in that for all these years they suspected that he was hostile towards them?!

Another related question in this episode is whether the message from Yaakov was fabricated. If it were real, Yaakov would have had to know the truth. Even if it were a lie, it would be meaningless unless Yaakov knew what the borthers had done to Yoseph. – see Nehama Leibowitz's chapter (on Vayechi): "Truth gives way to Peace."

2. See 49:9 מטרף בני עלית What does it mean? Does it refer to Joseph?
בראשית רבה פרשה צח מטרף בני עלית, מטרפו של יוסף עלית ונתעלית
Rashi there makes a minor connection. The ibn Ezra rejects a context of the Joseph sale.

3. The Ramban is of the opinion that Yaakov never knew about what the brothers did to Yoseph. See his commentary to 45:27. The brothers and Yoseph all knew that it was better to keep the details hidden from Yaakov.

Any other relevant sources? (add them in the "comments" section.)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

RAL has a well-known sicha on this; on the pasuk that you quoted he quotes the midrash of Yosef begging like an anxious dog on four feet for acceptance as a brother - which never occurs.

The years of bonding, and the shared experiences - good and bad - among the "achim" are lost forever to Yosef, and his one true request, to be accepted, is never fulfilled.

It is a powerful sicha - I'm not sure if it's ever been written up, but worthwhile to check on the VBM.

Brenda said...

Good for people to know.

Anonymous said...

I once heard--but cannot source--the idea that in Birkat haMazon we ask that haShem provide our needs and that we NOT be dependent on the benificence of our fellow man/ basar v'dam. After the petira of Yaakov, Yosef's brothers approach him, somewhat fearfully, and Yosef responds: to his brothers says: Don't worry, I will support you--almost as if to say, while you plotted against me, haShem took care of me, but now I--not HE--will take care of you. That is to say, Yosef and his brothers did not fully reconcile and their existence owed much to his willing-ness to tolerate them.