Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 27 December 2014 / 5 Tevet 5775

Parshat Vayigash

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

When Yosef decides he can no longer hide his true identity from his brothers, “He cried in a loud voice. Egypt heard and Pharoah’s household heard.” This was not simply a case of the emotional response of a brother who had been completely separated from his family for years with no contact. In that case he would not have cried until after having embraced his brothers. Rather, Yosef’s crying was to demonstrate to the Egyptians the superior traits and preciousness of his brothers. His relationship to them was not that of a lowly individual who had been elevated to greatness and would therefore be embarrassed to be seen with his brothers or other relatives. This would be a disgrace since they are not on his level. This was not the case with Yosef, whose brothers were honorable and superior individuals. He makes sure that the Egyptians hear his heartfelt tears, tears of love and desire for them, having been separated for so many years. Even though Yosef was such an important man in Egypt, he still missed them badly and considered himself honored through their presence in Egypt. There was no reason for the Torah to mention Yosef’s reaction other than to demonstrate Yosef’s insightful wisdom in every aspect of his life. He was aware that no matter how far he had risen there were many who knew of his previous life as a servant in Potiphar’s house who ended up in prison. By demonstrating immediately that he was the scion of an important family from Canaan he would be able to gain total acceptance from the Egyptian populace.

He then reveals himself to his brothers with the puzzling statement: “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” His brothers have already told him clearly that their father Yaakov is still alive. He makes this statement simply to provide an opening to engage them in dialogue. He did not want to remind them of their having sold him into slavery, as this would only embarrass them. He chose to focus on other things first. He refers to Yaakov as “my father” instead of “our father”. This means to convey, “My father who loves me, isn’t he living with the pain over losing me, or now with the pain of losing Binyamin? Tell me the truth.” It was his intention to then ask about their wives, children and household possessions.

But the brothers panicked and were not able to answer him. Maybe they were terrified and maybe they thought that this viceroy had heard the name ‘Yosef’ from some other individuals and was playing a trick on them. As a result he found it necessary to explain the whole story to them, to remove the mask of embarrassment from their faces. He then gave them a sufficient sign that he was really Yosef by reminding them of the sale, as they had surely not revealed this to anyone else. Because he didn’t want them to think that he hated them because of their actions he emphasized “I am Yosef your brother.” This was to demonstrate that he had a pure brotherly love for them, something which was not apparent from his original revelation. He didn’t want the Egyptians to know what they had done as this would be humiliating, so before he told them, “I am Yosef your brother. It is me, whom you sold into Egypt” he first told them, “Come close to me if you please.” This way he could remind the brothers of the sale into Egyptian slavery, which would remove all doubt as to his identity, out of earshot of the Egyptian courtiers, a move clearly intended to uphold the honor of his brothers.

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