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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayigash(66)

In this week's sedra we are witness to Joseph revealing his real identity to his dumbfounded brothers. The sedra begins with the longest recorded speech in the Torah - Judah's impassioned plea to the harsh Vice-Minister (Joseph, as yet unrecognized by the brothers) to let the accused Benjamin return to his father and not be taken as a slave. As substitute for Benjamin, Judah offers himself. This speech has been analyzed by many commentators - it is a masterwork of psychological subtlety and speechwriter's spin.

I suggest you read his whole speech first, before we analyze Rashi.

Genesis 44:19

My lord asked his servants saying, 'Have you a father or brother?'


My lord asked his servants : Rashi: From the beginning you came against us with a pretext. Why did you have to ask all these [questions]? Were we desirous of your daughter or were you interested in marrying our sister? In spite of this "We said to our lord" - we didn't hold anything back from you.

What would you ask on this comment?

Your Question:


A Question: Rashi elaborates here seemingly unnecessarily. Why the talk of marriage here?

What is bothering him that prompted this comment?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Judah is telling the Vice-Minister (Joseph) about a conversation that took place (not long before) between the him and the brothers. So why need Judah tell him about a conversation in which Joseph himself was a participant, Joseph already knows all this?

How does this comment deal with the problem?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi tells us the meaning behind Judah's words. Judah is being critical of Joseph. He tells him, that he knows ( or feels) that for some unknown reason Joseph has something against this group of brothers. From the outset he accused them unjustly of being spies. See, says, Judah, we have brought our younger brother as you asked. This proves we are not spies. Now what else do you want ? Why are you making us sweat so much? Aren't you being a bit too nosey? Why give us the third degree questioning, do you want to marry into our family, he asks facetiously?

But we can ask another question, by pointing out a problem with Judah's words themselves. What is the problem?

Hint: Compare what Judah says here with the original conversation between them above (42: 10-14).

Your Answer:


A Problem : Strangely it was not Joseph who asked about the younger brother or the father. It was the brothers themselves who offered this information voluntarily! Judah's got it all backwards.

What do you say? How can we (i.e. you) explain this?

Before you answer this question, compare the whole original conversation (42: 10-14) with Judah's version of it. How many other differences - omissions and/or additions - do you see?

Your Answer:


An Answer:

  1. Judah says nothing now when he recalls the past events, of their being accused of being spies, or being put in jail for 3 days.

  2. Judah now calls the younger brother "a child of his father's old age" this was not mentioned originally.

  3. Nor was the fact that he is the sole surviving son of his mother.

  4. Joseph never said "I will put my eye on him" (meaning an innocent observation)

  5. Joseph never said "if your brother is not with you don't see me anymore."
What do you make of all these changes?

Your Answer:


An Answer: This illustrates the clever "spin" Judah puts on his plea. Mentioning that they had been accused of being spies would bring up a troublesome issue, even though they have "proven" their innocence by bringing Benjamin down to Egypt, but why take the chance? This man (Joseph) is a potentate - he could do on a whim whatever he wants. Why press his wrong buttons?

Judah recalls incorrectly when says it was Joseph who first asked about their father and younger brother. He may have done this intentionally to put the responsibility on Joseph and enable him to work on his mercy. Or Judah may have thought that is what really happened. Because when Judah tried to convince Jacob (see above 43:6,7) that is what they told him.

So having changed the story once, Judah may have come to believe it himself.

Did Joseph say "if your brother is not with you don't see me anymore" ? It is not recorded in the previous conversation . But he may have said it. Note verse 42:24 above, it says "And he turned from them and cried. Then he returned to them and spoke with them and he took Simon from them and imprisoned him in front of them." The Torah does say "he spoke with them" but it doesn't tell us what he said. Perhaps it was then that he said "if your brother is not with you don't see me anymore." So what Judah now says may be accurate.

And when Joseph had said to them (42:20) "Bring your younger brother to me so your words will be verified and you will not die." The last words could mean - not that Joseph would kill them - but that they could then buy food and save their families from death by starvation.

In summary: Judah subtly crafted his speech with Joseph, the potentate, in a way that would accomplish his goal of saving Benjamin. He used whatever psychologically convincing words ("spin") that would accomplish that end. In fact, Judah succeeded moving Joseph enough so that he broke down and stopped his charade.


The Torah is a storyteller par excellence. Therefore we have to listen very closely to every word to pick all its messages.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"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 Judaica bookstores.

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