In the Torah portion of parashat Vayechi, in chapter 48:1 we read “And it came to pass after these things that someone said to Joseph, ‘Behold your father is ill. So he took his two sons, Menashe and Efraim with him’.”
Why is that Yosef had to be told his father was sick, and had to be called?
We know that Yosef lived in Egypt proper, attending to his royal administrative role, and Yaakov lived in a different part of Egypt, in the Land of Goshen with his sons. But why did they live apart? After all the years of separation, why didn’t Yosef live together with his father? And even if they did live apart, didn’t they have a family WhatsApp group? Or Zoom meetings?
Here is an amazing truth. Our sages teach that during all the years after they were reunited, even for the rest of his life, Yosef never ever revealed the slightest word to Yaakov his father, not orally, not by hint or sign, not in writing, not directly, not indirectly, not through someone else….not a word about the sale. Yosef never divulged the truth to his father, about how he wound up in Egypt.
How could it be that a person like the righteous Yosef HaTzaddik did not put his father in an apartment next door to him, or better still, in a luxury suite in his own regal home. Yosef, with his royal duties, had to remain in Egypt…but why did he settle his father in the Land of Goshen? When his father was sick, Yosef had no idea until a messenger, whoever that was, came to tell him. Is that how one treats an elderly, infirm father, putting him in a home far away, especially when we are talking about a father and son who had such a special relationship, and especially when we are speaking about such a close and important relationship that had been on hold, even mourned over, for 22 years?
This is what the Midrash states:
“Is this the praise of Yosef, who was so concerned about his father, that he was not frequently found with him? That had not others come to inform him that his father was ill, he wouldn’t have known?” But actually, continues the Midrash, “all this is to inform you of Yosef’s righteousness. He was careful never to be found alone with his father, so that the opportunity for a private conversation wherein Yaakov could say to Yosef, ‘how did this all come about, how did you wind up down here, how did your brothers figure into this…’ to make certain that such a conversation would never come about, Yosef kept his distance from Yaakov, for he feared that if Yaakov would find out the truth, he would curse the brothers.”
Think about what this means. These were the happiest years for both Yaakov and Yosef but there was trouble in paradise. For seventeen years Yosef kept his distance from his father’s house, and when he did come to visit it was always together with a large company, so that Yaakov could never initiate a private conversation on this sensitive, and secret, subject. Thus the Midrash concludes, Yosef never informed his father of the sale, not in writing, not orally, not no how, nothing. Yosef sacrificed his time with his father for his father’s sake, and for the sake of his brothers. For the sake of peace within the family.
This could also provide the reason as to why Yosef, all 22 years he was in Egypt, starting as a slave but then living as a ruler, never contacted his father and informed him that he was still alive. He knew he was the beloved and favourite son and was certainly aware that his father was suffering in great anguish over his disappearance, but if he would be found, his father would seek to clarify the circumstances that led to this situation. Yosef reasoned, that the anguish Yaakov would feel knowing that his sons were capable of such a deed would be worse than the anguish he had experienced over Yosef’s disappearance. In the bliss of ignorance, it was possible for Yaakov to blame his disappearance on natural circumstances, an accident: ‘a wild beast devoured him’—after all, such things unfortunately do happen. But not that his sons were to blame for such a grievous and heinous sin.
Thus, not only did Yosef not inform his father that he was alive through a messenger while he was a slave, but even during the seven years of plenty as Yosef ruled, he did not inform him, although undoubtedly merchants were going back and forth, between Canaan and Egypt, he still told nothing. All in order to protect his father’s health…as well as his brothers’ dignity…the very same brothers who did such a terrible thing to him.
On this Sabbath of concluding the book of B’reishith, after the portion is read the congregation will rise and declare in unison ‘Chazak, Chazak V’Nitchazek,’ ‘Be Strong, Be Strong and Let Us Be Strengthened.’
Indeed, let us be strengthened and inspired by Yosef’s example, to seek unity and harmony in all our relationships, especially our family relationships!