Posted in Parashat Hashavua on 17. Dec, 2010
Yosef is thrown into a pit, left for dead, and found by Yishmaelim, who sell him to Mitzrim. He then goes to Potifar’s house, but eventually is attacked by his wife, and then gets thrown in jail and later made second in command to the King of Egypt. All those years, Yosef was silent. We do not hear of any communication between him and his family.
Why didn’t Yosef contact his father all the time he was in Mitzrayim? Isn’t it weird that he did not get in touch with him all those years?
Yosef was upset with Yaakov; he felt betrayed. Therefore, he was psychologically unable to feel a part of his own family. When the family finally meets and Yosef reunites with Yaakov, Yosef says nothing. He still cannot bring himself to talk to Yaakov. We would expect that Yosef, after not seeing his father for so long, would excitedly or passionately exchange words with his father. Instead, Yaakov does all the talking “Vayomer Yisrael el Yosef” (Breishit 46:30). Yosef resents him. Why did Yaakov not speak up all through Yosef’s childhood? Did he not see the way his brothers were treating him?
When Yosef finally utters a word to his father, it is in response to something his father says and he keeps it as brief as possible (47:30 and 31). Furthermore, when Yosef initializes a visit to his father, Yaakov is still the only one to talk, (48:3).
Eventually, Yaakov begins to understand Yosef’s position. For after realizing that the fact that he sent Yosef to Shechem means he had a hand in Yosef’s anger and estrangement, he tries to rectify the situation as much as possible – he refuses to give up. This is evident in the words of the beracha he bestows upon Yosef “Me’el avicha v’ya’azreka” (49:25), meaning, I will continuously try to help you as much as I can. Perhaps Yaakov feels some sort of remorse or regret. Maybe subconsciously, he grasps what he did.
Still, as long as Yaakov lived he never expressed his heartfelt compassion and sympathy for Yosef’s trials and tribulations. He never said any words that conveyed his true apologetic feelings to Yosef, nor did the brothers. No one bore any blame or conveyed any sense of them taking responsibility for their actions. Maybe all Yosef needed was a feeling of family – love and care. He wanted someone to say, “I missed you! I love you! I’m so sorry for all the hardship that I caused you!” Perhaps that is the reason Yosef never talked and could never forgive his father while he was alive.
Only when Yaakov dies does Yosef begin to comprehend all that has happened. He falls down on Yaakov’s face and cries. He then tells Pharaoh he will go and bury his father in Kena’an and return. He wants to feel loved and love them back. Yet, despite his desires, internally and physiologically, he cannot connect to them anymore. He remains separate. The pasuk says (50:14), “Vayashov Yosef Mitzrayma, hu v’echav” He returns to his Egyptian past, but remains alone. The rift still exists. Later, although he tells his brothers to bring his bones to Israel with the rest of Am Yisrael, he is still buried in Egypt. It seems that he will always be caught between the two worlds. Yosef never really becomes part of Israel; perhaps he never was. He does not inherit a portion of land; rather his nachala is given to his sons. Though he had a tremendously important role in the formation and salvation of the Jewish nation, he himself as an individual is forever lost between the two cultures.
We can learn from both Yosef and Yaakov that suppressing our emotions does not help a relationship; rather, just the opposite is true. Silence, many times, leads to separation and loss. Both Yaakov and Yosef could have and should have spoken to each other, so they could both understand what the other was feeling. They should have talked about what was bothering them so that they could forgive and try harder next time. We see here the importance of family and the significance of not waiting until it’s too late to make amends. It is imperative to try to solve our differences and treat our family members with love and respect, even if they don’t show you the same emotions. Sometimes, even older and wiser people can make mistakes and it is important to take responsibility for our actions before they cause irreparable damage. Relationships are a two-way street and we have to do our part to resolve differences and maintain strong ties and pleasant interaction. Whatever the problem, we must try to work it out so that we feel “shalem” (whole and at peace) with ourselves and our actions.