After all the trials and challenges that Yosef experiences over the course of the past three Torah portions, Parshat Vayechi ends off on a note that seems to add insult to all of the previous injuries.
Due to his connections, Yosef was able to arrange for the burial of his father Yaakov back in
(which would have been preferable to Pharoh.) On their way home from the
funeral Joseph’s brother once again conspire against him: Egypt
“They said, ‘perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us all of the evil that we did to him.” To protect against that possibility they inform Yosef of a message their father Yaakov wanted him to know: Forgive your brothers.
Were the brothers justified in having such a fear, or were they just slipping into old patterns in their thinking about their younger brother?Yosef responds by crying. Yosef cries at being unfairly suspected of wrong doing.
The brothers are not the first to be suspicious of Yosef, even at this late juncture in the story. The Talmud in Masechet Kallah (3a) develops an approach that views Yaakov as also being suspicious of Yosef’s righteousness.
Earlier in Parshat Vayechi we read how late in Yaakov’s life, he summoned Yosef to make burial arrangements – and to bless his sons Efrayim and Menashe. Before blessing his grandchildren Yaakov asks Yosef “Mi Eleh?” “Who are these boys?” The Talmud explains that Yaakov suspected Yosef of being unable to live the life in
to the morality demanded by the Torah. In response, Yosef says Egypt
“banai hem, asher natan Elokim Li BAZEH
“they are my sons, that G-d has given me BAZEH.
Yosef shows his father Yaakov his ketubah (and perhaps even his wife) to prove that these children were born in wedlock to a Jewish family.
Yaakov’s suspicion of Yosef began at the initial meeting after decades of separation.
In last week’s Torah portion, (46:29) we read how during the reunion between Yaakov and Yosef,
“Vayipol Al Tzavarav, Vayevk al tzavarav od.”
He fell on his neck, and he cried on his neck.”
The verse is ambigious, and the commentators try to make sense of what happened. Most understand that Yaakov fell on his son’s neck, and Yosef cried in response. However Masechet Kalah explains that Yosef does both actions: Yosef fell on his father’s neck and wanted to kiss Yaakov. However Yaakov refused to be kissed by Yosef, as he would not allow himself to be kissed by someone whom he suspected of impropriety. Upon seeing that his display of affection would not be received, Yosef cries in frustration at the injustice of it all. Masechet Kallah utilizes this approach to explain why at the time of Yaakov’s death we are told:
“Yosef fell on his father’s face, he wept over him and he kissed him.”
As Masechet kallah puts it, “Yosef said, “I have been in the presence of my father for the past thirty-three years and I have not kissed him. Now when I am about to bury him, should I not kiss him?”
The fact that both his brothers and his father suspected Yosef’s sincerity and piety begs the question: why? Since their reunion Yosef has been nothing but nice to his family, ensuring that they were taken care. Yosef even arranged for special housing and professional accommodations for his family. After all he did for them, why do they still suspect him of wrongdoing?
The answer is that although Yosef may have treated his brothers in a way that seemed to demonstrate his feelings, he never once said the three words that could have cleared everything up, “I forgive you.” Sure he says to his brothers, “It was all part of G-d’s plan, don’t worry about it.” But we all know that if a person responds to an apology by saying “don’t worry about it” – then we definitely have something to worry about.
(similar to when a person prefaces their point by saying “with all due respect”- I know what’s coming next will be probably be rude and border on disrespectful).
Yosef takes care of his father, but it appears that Yosef never sits down with his father talk things through and clear the air. If they had, then Yaakov would have realized the extent of Yosef’s righteousness and would not have suspected him of any wrongdoing. Perhaps it was due to the difficulties he endured throughout his lifetime. Perhaps Yosef wondered what true feelings his father and brothers had towards him. Whatever it was, Yosef attempted to show his feelings through actions, but had difficulty expressing himself. The man who had been dubbed Tzafnat Paneach, revealer of secrets- could only reveal other people’s secrets through dream interpretation. But he had a much more difficult time clearly revealing his feelings to others.
There is an old adage that talk is cheap, and that what really counts is our actions. Nonetheless our words must be used to frame our actions. Actions can be misunderstood, words are much more difficult to misconstrue. Pirkei Avot says Emor Me’at Vasey Harbei, say little and do much. Your words should be less than your actions- but you still need to say something! We must express ourselves, especially to our families and our loved ones. Yosef may have done all the right things, but he failed to say the right things, to verbalize those feelings in a way that would have been clear and unambiguous.
As we think about the challenges that we face in our homes, communities and beyond, let us be ready and willing to not only do what needs to be done, but to say what needs to be said.