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Joseph's brothers went to take care of their father's flocks in Shechem. Israel said to Joseph… "Find out and tell me how your brothers, and my flocks are getting on" (37:12-14)
It was established that Joseph was Jacob's favorite son. It was also established that Joseph's brothers hated him because of the messages implied in telling them of his dreams. Why did Jacob send his son Joseph on this dangerous mission?
It may be suggested that Jacob's main motive was to make peace between Joseph and his brothers before matters got even further out of hand. Jacob's own experience at reconciliation was with his brother, Esau, who had wanted to kill him (27:41). Years later, Jacob met with Esau, but only very briefly. The meeting indicated that things had calmed down. However, the first meeting did not last long. Jacob made his polite excuses and left (33:13-14). Only later on, did it appear that they were working together on a permanent basis, though their prosperity caused them to part company due to insufficient resources to maintain their wealth in cattle and goats (36:6-7).
In sum, family reconciliation in Jacob's experience went through two stages. Firstly, a brief meeting. Secondly, and much later on, moving to work together on a permanent and peaceful basis.
This seems to have been Jacob's plan here. Jacob did not tell Joseph to join his brothers on a permanent basis. He merely sent him on a short mission: to find out how things were getting on, and report back. It would involve a very brief encounter: but sufficient to initially break the ice of frigid fraternal relationships.
However, there was a fundamental difference between Jacob meeting Esau, and Joseph meeting the brothers. Jacob was essentially dealing with one man only. For Esau's 400 men were his servants, not his rivals. The brothers were not one, but ten. Joseph found himself not facing just one man, but a committee of ten very hostile men. Each brother being individual would have felt the impact of Joseph's implied bid for family domination in a different way. And what works to pacify one man does not work for a committee…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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Also by Jacob Solomon:
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