After all challenges that Yosef experienced, Parshat Vayechi ends off on a note that seems to add insult to all of the previous injuries.
On their way home from Yaakov’s funeral the brothers once again conspire against Yosef:
“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.
Yosef responds by crying. Yosef cries at being unfairly suspected of wrong doing.
The brothers are not unique in their suspicion 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.
Before blessing his grandchildren Yaakov asks Yosef “Mi Eleh?” “Who are these boys?” The Talmud explains that Yaakov suspected Yosef of intermarriage, or of having his children out of wedlock. That is why Yosef responds to his father (48:9):
“They are my sons, that G-d has given me BAZEH”
Yosef showed his father his ketubah to prove that these children were born in wedlock into a Jewish family.
Yaakov’s suspicion of Yosef began earlier, at their reunion after decades of separation.
In last week’s Torah portion, (46:29) we read how during that reunion,
“He fell on his neck, and he cried on his neck.”
The verse is ambiguous, and the commentators try to make sense of what happened. Masechet Kallah explains that Yosef fell on his father’s neck and wanted to kiss Yaakov. However Yaakov refused, for he suspected Yosef of impropriety. Upon seeing that his display of affection was rebuffed, Yosef also cries in frustration at his father’s suspicion.
Since their reunion Yosef was nothing but nice to his family. He made sure that his family was taken care of. 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?
Although Yosef treated his brothers in a way that appeared to show 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.
It appears that Yosef never sat down with his father to talk things through. If they had, Yaakov would have realized the extent of Yosef’s righteousness and would not have suspected him of any wrongdoing. Yosef attempted to show his feelings through his actions, but had difficulty expressing himself. Yosef, the man who had been called Tzafnat Paneach, “revealer of secrets”- could only reveal other people’s secrets through dream interpretation. But he had a much more difficult time revealing his own 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! 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 cleared the air and created a happier ending to this story.
As we think about the challenges that we face in our homes, communities and beyond, let us be ready to not only do what needs to be done, but to say what needs to be said.