Parshat Vayigash

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers

Speaking Directly

Bereishit (45:1-3) (Robert Alter, trans.)
And Joseph could not longer hold himself in check before all who stood attendance upon him, and he cried, “Clear out everyone around me!” And no man stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud and the Egyptians heard and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

Alter of Kelm (as cited by Rav Wolbe)
At some point, Yosef was going to have to make mention about what had occurred. Hence, he preferred to immediately say everything that needed to be said, so that they would be able to move on and achieve true reconciliation. Had he kept his feelings bottled up inside, there would be a constant internal barrier between him and his brothers.

Rav Wolbe
In people’s relationships with family members and friends, many times there are certain behaviors that irk a person to the degree that it jeopardizes the relationship. If in truth it is something trivial, then one should work on himself instead of trying to change his friend. However, if the friction was caused because the person was wronged, then it is crucial not to bottle up the feelings inside himself. Not only does such behavior not accomplish the desired result, it can also cause the bottled up feelings to explode at a later date making the possibility for a continued good relationship much harder. After receiving guidance on how to broach the topic, one should take the initiative and discuss the matter. It might not be easy, but it is short term pain for long term gain!

Of course, Joseph had just gone through a very elaborate and time-consuming ruse to engage his brothers. Why does he open up now? While not mentioned by Rav Wolbe, might this suggest work that must be done before speaking openly? What would that work be?

How do you tell the difference between a trivial matter, that you should work on yourself, and one that you should speak directly and openly about?

What might be involved in “broaching the topic”?

What kind of middot would help with direct conversation – I can think of humility, honor, truth and zerizut? What would be involved for you?


Bereishit (45:3-4)
But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed before him.

Midrash Rabbah Bereishit
Woe to us on the Day of Judgment! We too, will have no words to answer the rebuke of the Almighty, just like Bilaam and Joseph’s brothers.

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz
The trait of shame [boshet] … should not be repressed or ignored.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler
…being held in contempt by others can significantly cripple one’s spiritual advancement.

Bereishit (45:4-8)
And Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me, pray,” and they came close, and he said, “I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be pained and do not be incensed with yourselves that you sold me down here, because for sustenance God has sent me before you. … And God has sent me before you to make you a remnant on earth and to preserve life … And so, it is not you who sent me here but God”

According to the Midrash, the brothers were silent because of the their sense of shame. Rabbi Leibowitz speaks of shame being very painful. Yet he says shame should not be repressed or ignored. Is silence the right way to express shame, in your opinion? What are other ways the brothers could have expressed shame?

Rabbi Dessler argues that being held in contempt by others is very counterproductive. Is shaming another person the same as holding them in contempt? What is the difference between feeling shame and being shamed? How might you rebuke someone without holding them in contempt?

Joseph relieves the brothers’ shame by saying all the events were ultimately caused by God, for the good. Yet what the brothers did was wrong. How do you reconcile holding people to account for their choices yet recognize larger forces at work?