Supply Side Diplomatics
After Yaakov's passing the brothers were worried. After all, Yoseph was the
ruler of Egypt and their father Yaakov was now gone. And so the Torah tells
us at the end of this week's portion, "Yoseph's brothers perceived that
their father was dead, and they said, 'Perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred
against us and then he will surely repay us all the evil that we did him.'
So they instructed that Joseph be told, 'Your father gave orders before his
death, saying: 'Thus shall you say to Joseph - 'O please, kindly forgive the
spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin for they have done you evil; so
now. please forgive the spiteful deed of the servants of your father's G-d."
The Torah continues by telling us that "Yoseph wept when they spoke to him.
His brothers themselves also went and flung themselves before him and said,
"We are ready to be your slaves. But Joseph said to them, "Fear not, for am I
instead of G-d? Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good - in
order to accomplish -- it is as clear as this day -- which a vast people be
kept alive. So now, fear not -- I will sustain you and your young ones.' Thus
he comforted them and spoke to their heart." (See Genesis 50 15-21)
Yoseph seems very benevolent. He committed himself to sustain his brothers,
despite their having sold him into a life of slavery. Yet, maybe they truly
wanted some form of retribution. After all it is quite hard to bear the
burden of guilt for the rest of your life, and if that is the case, perhaps
Yoseph's benevolence may have defeated the purpose of their request.
An old yarn that I heard as I was still unmarried has the wealthy father of
the prospective bride interviewing her suitors before they got a chance to
Each one of the young men who discussed their anticipated financial plans was
One said that he would be going to medical school another was going to law
school, and yet a third was waiting for an inheritance that would come any
day. Each eager beau was barraged with a series of questions about the
details of his future life and none had the proper answer.
Finally, a young Yeshiva fellow came to see the tycoon's daughter.
After talking to the young man for twenty minutes, the man was beaming. He
proudly introduced the prospective groom to his daughter with the highest
His wife and assistants were all astounded. What had this young man said
that the others had not?
The man was still beaming when he repeated the conversation.
"When I asked him where he plans to live when he first gets married he
replied, 'G-d will provide!' When I asked him how he plans to feed a family
if he is sitting and studying he looked at me and declared, 'G-d will
provide!' When I asked when there are children, how does he plan to pay for
their education and welfare, he beamed once again and exclaimed, 'G-d will
The man's entire household was baffled. "Why do those responses please you
The man smiled as he puffed out his chest, "He thinks I'm G-d!"
It is said that Yoseph Dov HaLevi Soleveitchik of Brisk once remarked in wit
that Yoseph was telling the brothers, "If you are afraid of retribution, I
will provide you with the sweetest revenge. I will be your sole source of
support and you will have to rely upon me for your sustenance."
The Talmud in Beitzah 32 states, "R. Natan ben Abba also said in the name of
Rav: If someone is dependent on someone else's table, the world looks dark to
him, for it says, "He wanders about for food-where is it?- he realizes that
the day of darkness is ready, at hand" (Job 15:23). The Rabbis taught: One
of three whose life is no life, is a person who is dependent on someone else
for his meals."
And so, Yoseph was telling his brothers, perhaps I will not employ physical
retribution but perhaps your greatest punishment will be that your livelihood
will be dependent on the little brother you thought was only worthy of a
place in a pit. In the Grace After Meals we beseech the Almighty, "Please don't
have us rely upon the gifts of flesh and blood, but rather sustain us from
Your hand." To live a life dependent upon others is no blessing. So
according to this insight, Yoseph gave them something the brothers may really
have asked for - the sweetest and most benevolent punishment they could have
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky