Parshat Vayigash 5780: Possible Reasons Why Yosef Doesn’t Contact Yaakov and His Brothers

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Parshat Vayigash 5780: Possible Reasons Why Yosef Doesn’t Contact Yaakov and His Brothers

by Moshe Burt

Last year’s vort on our Parshat Vayigash dealt with the contrast between the struggles and challenges of Yaakov Avinu’s first one hundred and thirty years, vs his last years of mainly peace and tranquility with his sons in Goshen in Mitzrayim [Egypt].

In this year’s vort, we discuss the possible reasons why there was no contact between Yosef and his father and family once he (Yosef) was elevated out of incarceration to his meteoric rise to the position of Viceroy, second only to Pharaoh.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayigash, pages 243-247) poses questions and provides possible understandings regarding Yosef’s lack of any contact with his father and family during these intervening years, particularly once elevated to to the position of Viceroy in Mitzrayim.

Rabbi Goldin asks:

Why doesn’t Yosef contact his father and family after his rise to prominence in Mitzrayim? “…After Yosef’s multi-year sojourn in Egypt, how could he have not sent even one letter to his father to inform… and to comfort him? After all, Egypt is only a six-day journey from Hevron….” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posuk 9)

….Surely Yosef must have known that his father had been mourning his loss for years. How could he, then, have been so callous as to neglect to communicate with Yaakov concerning his survival and unimaginable success in Mitzrayim?

Rabbi Goldin then offers possible understandings regarding the above questions:

Yosef believes that he is… the divinely chosen instrument for his family’s salvation. He… believes that his early dreams in his father’s home were a reflection of Hashem’s plan and that he is now obligated to bring that plan to fruition. He cannot, therefore, contact his father prematurely. He must wait until the time comes when the dreams can be fulfilled. (Rabbi Goldin again citing Ramban on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posuk 9)

The Sapirstein Edition, “The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary” renders to English Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posuk 9 regarding the viceroy meeting the bothers:

“Yosef recalled the dreams that he dreamed about them, and he said to them, ‘You are spies! To see the land’s nakedness have you come!'”

Rabbi Goldin also cites Israeli biblical scholar Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun in “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Breish’t, Parshat Vayigash, pages 244-245):

Rabbi Bin-Nun postulates that Yosef had no way of knowing that his brothers had deceived his father with the lie that Yosef had been devoured by a wild beast, For all Yosef knew, Yaakov never believed him dead.

Yosef was therefore plagued for years with the question: “Where is my father? Why has no one come to look for me.

After years of torment, Yosef arrives at a grudging acceptance of his fate. He determines to live according to the traditions of his family even while he accepts his severance from them.

When Yosef’s brothers suddenly and unknowingly appear before him, he is driven by a desire to determine the truth. All of his actions from this point on are designed to obtain information concerning his father’s apparent rejection of him. Finally, Yehudah, rising in defense of Binyamin, inadvertently proclaims what Yosef has, for years, desperately desired to hear: “Your servant, my father said to us: ‘You know that my wife [Rachel] bore me two [sons]. One has left me and I presumed — alas — he has surely been torn to pieces and I have not seen him since.'” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 44, posukim 27-28)

Suddenly, Yosef realizes that, after all of these years, his father assumed him dead; he has not been rejected after all. Moved by uncontrollable emotion, he reveals himself to his brothers. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, “A Tragic Misunderstanding: Why Did Yosef Not Send Word to His Father?”, translated by Dov Lappin [Ein Tzurim: Yeshivat HaKibbutz Hadati, 2002])

In a different take, Rabbi Goldin poses another explanation for Yosef’s non-contact with his father and family (Ibid, pages 245-247)

…A careful reading of the text may reveal a totally different explanation for Yosef’s silence towards his father.

Yosef does not contact his father, after ascending to the position of Egyptian Viceroy, simply because he cannot. Any attempt at such contact would have endangered not only his newfound status, but his life.

…A clear case can be made that Yosef’s most dangerous period in Egypt begins when Pharaoh appoints him viceroy over Egypt… At that point, Yosef enters a court of intrigue, a palace that has already seen the king’s butler and baker imprisoned, each accused of trying to undermine the king.

Yosef is suddenly surrounded by powerful figures who resent his [Yosef’s] authority, even as they pine for their own advancement. He finds himself in a world where he can trust no one, where any messenger he sends to Canaan might simply… report him to a member of the court or even to the king, raising accusations of dual loyalty against the new viceroy.

The first indication of potential trouble emerges at the moment of Yosef’s appointment to the position of viceroy. After hearing Yosef’s interpretation of his dream, Pharaoh immediately turns to those present and exclaims: “Could we find another such as him — a man in whom there is the spirit of G’d?” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 41, posuk 37) …Pharaoh… turns to all those present in the palace and effectively says to them: You have seen what I have seen and heard what I have heard. Is there any among us more talented or capable that this Hebrew slave? Were any of you, other than he, able to interpret my dream correctly? Speak up now — “could we find another such as him…?” Speak up now or forever hold your piece.

In a brilliant tactical move, Pharaoh involves his own officers in Yosef’s selection so that it will not come back to haunt him. We can be certain, however, that Yosef’s appointment did not sit well with the many advisors present who desired their own advancement.

According to the Ramban, Yosef’s presumed lowly origins were a constant… embarrassment to the Mitzriyim. “Now, however, with the arrival of these distinguished brothers it became clear that he [Yosef] was fit to serve kings. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 45, posuk 16)

The Sforno, on the other hand, maintains that Egyptians regarded Yosef as a foreigner whose loyalty to Egypt was in doubt. Reassured by the prospect of Yosef’s family remaining in Egypt, they now believed that Yosef would “govern not as a foreign leader but as a citizen who intends to settle in the land together with his children. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sforno on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 45, posuk 16)

The common denominator between these two interpretations is the recognition of inherent weakness in Yosef’s position in Egypt before the appearance of his brothers.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid, pages 247-248)

Life is not simple for Yosef even after his rise to authority in Egypt. His vulnerability may well have constrained him from contacting Yaakov for years. Only once his brothers descent to Egypt, and the opportunity to safely move his family presents itself, can Yosef finally reach out to his beloved father.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — which can only occur when he is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.