Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Compare Avraham’s words to his servant with Yaacov’s to Yosef in the following excerpt:
“And I (Avraham) will make thee swear by the Lord God of heaven...” (24, 3)
Contrast the above with Yaacov’s simpler form of adjuration (47, 31): “Swear unto me”
What is the reason for the difference?
In the case of Yosef, the oath was administered pro forma - to impress Pharaoh that Yosef personally was obligated to bury his father in the land of Canaan. In the case of Eliezer, the servant of Avraham, the oath not only obligated the servant to do his master’s bidding, it also connected him to God in the pursuit of his mission. Avraham assures Eliezer that God will aid him in finding a wife for Yitzhak. “...He will send his angel before you and you will get a wife for my son from there” (24, 7). Thus when Eliezer came to Aram-Naharaim, he called on God for a sign to indicate the designated wife for Yitzhak. And so it came to pass. Even Lavan and Bethuel acknowledged this fact of God’s providence... the matter stems from the Lord....”
“...One told Yosef, behold thy father is sick” (48, 1). Behold all Yosef’s praiseworthiness consisted of the great respect he paid to his father, yet he did not go in to see him every hour!? For were it not for the fact that others came to tell him, “Father is sick”, wouldn’t he have known? The purpose of this, however, is to make known unto you his righteousness, that he did not want to be alone with his father that he should not say to him: What did your brothers do to you? and he (Yaacov) would be prompted to curse them. For this reason he did not visit his father at frequent intervals. (Pesikta Rabbati)
a) Can you find in our sidra support for the view that Yaacov never knew what the tribes had done to Yosef?
When Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he stated “so it was not you who sent me here but God;...” (45, 8). If Yosef had intended to inform his father about the actual events that took place, he would not have been so conciliatory to the brothers. After assuaging their feeling of guilt, Yosef would have undone the whole future relationship if he would have told Yaacov about his brothers’ cruel treatment twenty two years earlier. In such a situation his earlier conciliatory gesture would have been hypercritical.
b) Cannot the verses 15-16-17 in chapter 50 be considered a contradiction of the opinion of the above quoted Midrash on this point?
The verses 15-16-17 in chapter 50 do not contradict the opinion of the above quoted Midrash. The Humash text gives no indication of any kind that Yaacov knew about what the brothers did to Yosef. Their words evolved from the current fear that perhaps Yosef treated them well in order not to upset Yaacov in his old age but now, after Yaacov died, he might seek to “settle the score.” It was a residual guilty conscience on the part of the brothers rather than any deliberate act on the part of Yosef that made them resort to the subterfuge of “Before his death... forgive I urge you...” (50, 16). Yosef then repeated what he told them seventeen years earlier “...God intended it for good...” (50, 20).
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem