Vayigash – Punishment for Forgiveness
Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers, assuring them that he harbors no grudge or resentment against them. Nevertheless, his brothers are unable to completely trust him for the rest of their lives. They carry their guilt with them to the end, and assume that Yosef carries some degree of hurt with him as well. The relationship between them is forever tainted. This was not what Yosef wanted or intended. He had hoped that all of the past would be water under the bridge in the realization that everything had been orchestrated by Divine Providence.
How indeed could Yosef have held no resentment in his heart against his brothers. He had barely escaped with his life after Yehudah suggested that they sell him and gain some profit rather than allow him to die in the pit. The years of his suffering in Egypt, languishing in prison for 12 years before ascending to power, could not be easily forgotten or dismissed. How do we understand this strange and unusual benevolence in Yosef? “Your thoughts were to harm me, but G-d’s thoughts were for the ultimate good,” is Yosef’s explanation to his brothers. And with that Yosef closes the book on any hard feelings.
One way to attempt to understand this is by reviewing the intents of Yosef’s brothers from the beginning. Sure, they disliked him and resented their father’s favor toward him above all his brothers. They further resented his dreams which reflected Yosef’s superiority over them. But they were not murderers; the sons of Jacob would not commit fratricide because of jealousy.
The Or HaChaim comments on the passage of his brothers’ plan to kill Yosef, explaining that Yosef’s brothers held a court session and concluded that Yosef was liable for death due to his slander of them to their father for capital crimes. They felt it was a legitimate sentence and they carried it out from a sense of duty. There was likely a sense of relief in ridding themselves of what they considered a thorn in their side, but they were not mafiosos taking out someone just because they didn’t like the way he looked at them.
This explanation becomes more compelling when we read of the brothers’ reaction to his harsh treatment of them before they knew his identity. Last week