Once Joseph rose to power and was essentially in control of Egypt, why didn’t he write home?
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayigash” (Genesis 44:18–47:27) and in it we read how Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers as well as the arrival of Jacob’s family (the entire Jewish people!) down to Egypt.
As we know, Joseph was never killed. He never died. But he had it rough, being thrown into a pit, then being sold multiple times, and finally being brought down to Egypt where soon after he winds up in jail! Not an easy ride to say the least. But eventually, Joseph not only gets out of jail – he is made second in command of Egypt!
So the question is asked: Once Joseph rose to power and was essentially in control of Egypt, why didn’t he write home? Why didn’t he send a letter to his father, Jacob, telling him that he was alive, not to mention ruler of Egypt?
Joseph allows the charade to continue. He allows his father to continue to sit in mourning over his “death.” Not even a Facebook post! What’s going on over here?
Well, this question has bothered many, if not most, of the Torah commentators. Here are some of the answers that have been offered.
According to one approach, Joseph understood that his dreams (see Genesis 37) were actual prophecies that were to be fulfilled. Now keep in mind that in his first dream his eleven brothers bow down to him. In his second dream, his father was included in the bowing, as well. Joseph wanted to ensure that the two dreams would be fulfilled in the order they were received.
As such, had he informed his father that he was alive, Jacob would have been on the next flight to Egypt to go and see Joseph, which would have likely meant that his father would bow down to him (dream #2) before his brothers would have (dream #1). So, he waited until his brothers had bowed down to him to send the message to his father that he was alive. And sure enough, when he did, his father promptly came down to Egypt and bowed to him, as well.
According to another approach, the reason Joseph didn’t inform his father that he was alive was because he was concerned that God would punish his brothers for selling him and he didn’t want them to incur any punishment. Instead, he wanted to give his brothers the opportunity to repent for having sold him (and all the rest…) before revealing to the world that he was alive.
So how did he do this?
We are told that the highest form of repentance is when the transgressor could perform the same transgression again, but doesn’t. As such, Joseph arranged that Benjamin should be favored, recalling the jealousy that ensued when Joseph received his fancy coat. Joseph then had Benjamin framed as a thief and arrested!
When the brother’s fought for Benjamin’s freedom, notwithstanding the favoritism that he received, it was clear that they repented from what they did to Joseph. And with that, Joseph revealed himself, thereby proving that no hard feelings remained and that they should not be punished. Had he revealed himself earlier, the bothers’ act of repentance would not have been ensured.
Finally, there are those who suggest that Jacob was always meant to be “kept in the dark” that Joseph was alive…and Joseph knew it! This is based on the tradition that Isaac, Jacob’s father who was still alive at the time, knew that Joseph was alive, but yet, didn’t tell Jacob as per God’s instructions. In other words, it was God’s desire that Jacob not know that Joseph was alive even though others may have. Joseph, knowing this, begrudgingly felt forced to go along with the Divine plan though he was not too happy to do so.
Believe it or not, there are a number of other answers as well!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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