by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Vayechi (71)We finish the book of Genesis this week with parashas Vayechi. It tells of Jacob's last will & testament to his children and of his death.
Genesis 50:15, 16
And the brothers of Joseph saw that their father had died and they said "Maybe Joseph will bear a grudge against us and pay us back for all the evil we did to him."
And they commanded that Joseph be told: "Your father commanded before his death saying."So you shall say to Joseph: 'Please forgive the transgression of your brothers, and their sin for they did evil to you. Now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the G-d of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
Your father commanded: Rashi: They altered the facts (lied) for the sake of peace; because Jacob never commanded this. For Joseph was not suspect in his eyes.
What would you ask on this comment?
A Question: What is bothering Rashi? Why can't Rashi accept the possibility that Jacob did, in fact, tell the brothers this? Why assume they "altered the facts."?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: If Jacob did want to protect the brothers from Joseph's possible revenge, he should have told Joseph this and not the brothers. That is the most reasonable way to do this. The fact that the brothers were "commanded" by Jacob to tell this to Joseph is strange - so strange that it looks like a fabricated story.
How does Rashi's comment deal with this?
An Answer: The story is fabricated, it is not true. But now we are left another, bigger, question. How could the brothers lie? Rashi tells us that in certain situations where lying would avoid strife and achieve peace, then it is permissible - and some even say it is required. And that is what the brothers did here.
But we can ask another question:
A DEEPER PROBE
A Question: We know it is permissible to say a fib if it will bring peace between people. But to apply that principle in this case seems strange. The peace the brothers sought here was for themselves, to protect themselves from a likely punishment for the despicable way they acted towards their brother Joseph in the past.
If we say a person can lie to save himself, as Rashi seems to be saying - we have opened a Pandora's Box. Then every criminal can justify lying in court by saying he lied so he would have peace. Does that make sense?
Can you explain this?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
A Possible Answer. Certainly self-serving lying is not permissible. But in this case we have an additional fact. The brothers actually did t'shuva in word and deed for what they had done to Joseph. In word: When they said "but we are guilty concerning our brother when we saw his suffering when he pleaded with us and we did not listen to him, therefore all this distress has come upon us." (Gen. 42:21). And in deed: When they fought to save Benjamin and even offered themselves in his place for punishment (see Gen. 44:9). So considering that they really and truly repented for their sin, their desire now to preserve the peace between them seems authentic and not self-serving. So in this case their lying seems more motivated by a sincere desire to repair relations with Joseph than it was by the desire to save their skin.
A LOOK AT THE RAMBAN
The Ramban has an informative comment earlier (Gen 45:27):
"And they told him all the words of Joseph": It seems to me (the Ramban says) that according to p'shat it was never told to Jacob all his life that the brothers sold Joseph, rather Jacob thought he got lost on the way and those that found him sold him to Egypt, because the brothers did not want to tell him their sin because they were afraid that he (Jacob) would be very angry with them and curse them…… For if Jacob did know of this, the brothers should have pleaded with him to command Joseph not to harm them. Then they would not have had to make up stories (i.e. saying "Your father commanded before his death saying…")
We can ask a serious question of the Ramban for our sedra. Can you think what it might be?
Hint: See Jacob's blessings.
QUESTIONING THE RAMBAN
Ramban says Jacob didn't know the story of the brothers selling Joseph. We can assume Rashi also thought this.
But among Jacob's "blessings" to his sons we find the following:
"And they willfully uprooted the ox" (Gen. 49:6). Rashi explains this to mean that they wanted to uproot Joseph who is compared to an ox (Deut. 33:17).
So it seems that Jacob did know about the sale - he hints at it through out his last words to his sons.
Can you explain this?
UNDERSTANDING THE RAMBAN
An answer: We know that Jacob did not have any prophecy during the period of Joseph's absence, because prophecy is only available if one is happy. And Jacob certainly was not happy during those years. But once he knew that Joseph was alive and well it says: "And the spirit of Jacob was revived." This is interpreted by some (See Radak 45:27) to mean that his prophetic spirit returned with his renewed happiness. So it is reasonable to assume that although Jacob never knew of the selling of Joseph all those years, he did know of it once his prophecy was reinstated at the end of his life.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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