Finally, the moment had come for Yosef to reveal himself to his brothers.
The ebb and flow of Yosef’s strategy for allowing his brothers to display
remorse for their actions and complete their teshuvah (repentance) had run
its course. Now it was time for Yosef to divulge his true identity.
The Torah’s description of the final steps of this dramatic episode is
very telling and is worthy of analysis for the powerful messages they
Even a casual reading of the pesukim that discuss Yosef’s revelation
reveal how careful he was to maintain the dignity of his brothers during
the remarkable moments of his disclosure. Yosef conveyed several salient
messages of material and emotional support for his brothers – which
comforted them during this most uncomfortable time in their lives.
Yosef began by ordered that the room be emptied of all people when he
spoke to his brothers. He calmed them by telling them that their actions
in selling him as a slave were part of Hashem’s Divine plan to permit them
to survive the hunger that was widespread at that time. He informed them
of his intent to support their entire families in the future. Finally, he
followed up on his thoughtful words with meaningful actions. The Torah
describes how he embraced his younger brother Binyomin (Bereshis 45:14) as
they cried on each other’s shoulders (I used current terminology
of ‘crying on each other’s shoulders’. It is important to note, however,
that the Torah’s exact words were that they cried on each other’s necks.)
He then did the same for each of his other siblings, while embracing them
The Torah describes how these embraces and displays of emotion ‘broke the
ice’ with the brothers and created the comfort level that allowed them to
converse with Yosef. Initially, they were rendered speechless by shock and
shame (see Rashi, Midrash; 45:3). Now, after they saw Yosef’s heartfelt
feelings, the Torah notes, “V’acharei cain dibru echov eito – and after
that [the embraces and tears], the brothers spoke to him” (45:14).
The Neck - Connecting Intellect and Emotion
What was the symbolism of the crying on their ‘necks’ and how did this
encourage the brothers to speak openly to Yosef?
Rashi comments that the mention of the ‘necks’ conjures references to the
spiritual centers of Hashem’s world. As Sifsei Chachamim point out,
Rashi’s logical thread connecting the symbolism of the neck with the Beis
Hamikdash would be congruent with the ones used by the wisest of all men,
Shlomo Hamelech, in Shir Hashirim (7:5).
Rashi explains that Yosef cried on the neck of Binyamin as he foresaw the
destruction of the first and second Batei Mikdash, which were located in
the section of Binyamin, while Binyamin wept as he thought of Mishkan
Shilo which was in the portion of Ephrayim, the son of Yosef.
Our chazal (sages) offer several reasons for the symbolism of the neck as
a reference to the Beis Hamikdash (see commentaries for several examples).
Looking At - And Out For - Each Other
Permit me to share with you a beautiful thought from my dear chaver Rabbi
Yaacov Haber s’hlita regarding the symbolism of the forms of affection
displayed by Yosef. His insight will clearly explain why the brothers
derived such comfort from his actions.
In Yosef’s youth, he aroused the envy of his brothers by relating the
dreams that revolved around Yosef. Following the dictum of our sages that
great tzadikim are judged for even miniscule indiscretions, the Torah
faulted Yosef for grooming himself excessively (see Rashi, Bereshis 37:2)
during his youthful years – which seemed to indicate traces of vanity
unbecoming Yosef’s exalted spiritual level.
Yosef Hatzadik grew into adulthood and corrected even these slight
imperfections. He continuously looked to help others, and began
interpreting the dreams of others – not only his own. (In fact, Rabbi
Haber notes that Yosef’s fortunes in prison began to improve the moment
that he noticed the pain of the butler of Pharoh and asked him why he was
Rabbi Haber points out that the brothers noticed that the powerful Viceroy
Yosef that stood before them was incredibly thoughtful and caring. Yosef
worried about his brothers and tried to make his revelation as painless as
possible. Most telling was the fact that Yosef was clearly turning
outward, crying over his brother Binyomin’s future tragedies – and not
over the misfortunes that will befall his descendants.
I would like to suggest that the neck was the perfect symbolism for these
messages to be conveyed to the brothers. The neck, after all, connects our
heads (intellect) to our hearts (emotions). Tears flow from the heart, but
are released through our eyes.
To live a decent and spiritual life both powers must be harnessed to serve
Hashem – and to benefit our fellow humans. Yosef concentrated his final
gesture of forgiveness and caring in the nerve conduit of the body – where
the messages and impulses flow from one to the other. He had already
explained to them that his intellect understood the reasons for his sale.
Now he showed that his heart and mind share the same sentiment.
Additionally, it may have been the fact that Yosef shared sadness with the
brothers that clinched things in their minds. Virtually anyone can share
in our celebrations. But only those closest to us are there to comfort us
during times of loneliness and disappointment.
Once the brothers saw Yosef sharing in their pain – with his emotion and
intellect – they developed the comfort level that allowed them to converse
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.