Feel My Pain
"I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?" (45:3)
When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, the verse records that the
brothers were unable to answer him due to an overwhelming sense of
embarrassment. The Midrash teaches that from the brothers' reaction, it is
clear that Yosef was giving them "tochacha" - "reproof" for having sold
him. This interpretation is further strengthened by the fact that on
several occasions the brothers mentioned that Yaakov was alive; thus,
Yosef's question must have had other implications.
Many of the commentaries discuss how the words "Is my father still alive"
imply rebuke. Some understand that Yosef was really saying to them, "How did
you expect my father to survive after all the grief and suffering you forced
him to endure?" The Bais Halevi takes this interpretation a step further. He
understands that Yosef was chiding Yehuda, saying, "You asked me to have
mercy on your father and release Binyamin; why is it that you yourselves did
not show him mercy when you sold me?"
The purpose of reproof is not to belittle or embarrass a person, rather to
show him that he has erred and that he should correct his ways. If we
directly attack the wrongdoer, the reproof will be met with a reaction which
is the opposite of what we want. Very often, when a person is confronted
concerning a transgression which he has committed, he raises his defenses
and continues to display the malevolent behavior, in order to enforce the
fact that he does not consider such behavior to be wrong. Therefore,
effective rebuke cannot be achieved by directly challenging and attempting
to belittle the perpetrator. Accordingly, how is it possible that Yosef
would choose to reprimand them in such a manner? Another question that can
be asked is: If the rebuke relates to their lack of sensitivity towards
their own father, why did Yosef ask whether "my father" is still alive,
rather than whether "our father" or "your father" is still alive?
Perhaps the following explanation can be offered: One form of effective
reproof is focusing on the victim's pain rather than on the wrongdoing of
the transgressor. By not directly challenging the perpetrator, he is not
forced to raise his defenses. When he sees the suffering that has been
caused by his actions, he comes to the understanding that he has behaved
The fact that "Is my father still alive?" was the first question that Yosef
asked his brothers, indicates that what most concerned him for the previous
twenty-two years was being distant from his father. His query should be
interpreted as an outpouring of his own personal grief over being in a
position where it is impossible to maintain a loving relationship with his
father. The brothers were filled with shame, not because Yosef directly
chastised them, rather as a result of understanding the grief that their
actions had caused. This makes the reason why Yosef focused on my father
rather than your father clear. He was expressing his grief over the loss of
his personal relationship with his father.
1.Bereishis Rabbah 93:11 Chagiga 4b
2.See Malbim Maharsha Chidushei Aggados Chagiga 4b
3.See Kli Yakar 45:3
"And they told him, saying 'Yosef is still alive. He is the ruler of all
Egypt' and his heart became numb, for he did not believe them" (45:26)
The verse states that when the brothers revealed to Yaakov that Yosef was
still alive, he did not believe them. The Midrash comments that "such is the
fate of the liar - even when conveying the truth he is not believed".
Since they had lied to Yaakov earlier concerning Yosef's fate, Yaakov
refused to believe them this time. When Delilah was attempting to discover
the source of Shimshon's great strength, Shimshon initially gave her false
information. When he finally told her the true source of his strength, the
verse states that she knew immediately that he was not lying. The Talmud
comments that the reason for this is "nikarim divrei emet" - "the truth is
clearly discernable". Why is it that Yaakov refused to believe his sons
because of their previous falsehood, whereas Delilah was able to discern the
truth in Shimshon's words, although he had been untruthful in the past? How
do we reconcile the axioms "such is the fate of the liar - even when
conveying the truth he is not believed" and "the truth is clearly discernable"?
There are two kinds of liars; one is a person whose sole motivation is to
mislead the listener with the falsehood that he is conveying, and the other
actually believes the falsehood to be a reality. The terms for these two
types of liars are "shakran" and "badai" respectively. The term "badai" is
also used by the Talmud to reflect certain expressions formulated by the
Sages which create a vow or oath, a new reality - "lashon asher badu
chachamim" which means "expressions formulated by the Sages".
The Midrash referring to Yaakov states that such is the fate of a badai.
According to the commentaries, Yosef's brothers convened a Beis Din which
judged Yosef as guilty and sentenced him to death. In their eyes, selling
Yosef to the Midianites was the manner by which to carry out the sentence
without actually having to kill Yosef with their own hands. Therefore, when
they informed Yaakov that Yosef had been killed, they were so convinced that
they had done the right thing, that they believed that Yosef, in reality had
been killed. They were sure that Hashem must have carried out their sentence
for them. Therefore, the brothers were bada'im, they believed their own
falsehoods, and consequently, Yaakov did not believe them. The lies of a
person who believes his own falsehoods cannot be distinguished from the truth.
Shimshon is described as speaking "kezav" or "sheker", when attempting to
mislead Delilah. He himself did not believe the lie. Therefore, when he
told the truth, it was discernable - "nikarim divrei emet".
1. Berishis Rabbah 94:3, Sanhedrin 89a, Avos D'Rav Nosson 30
2. Shoftim 16:18
3. Sotah 9b
4. Nedarim 10a
5. See Seforno 37:25
6. See Shoftim 16:13, Targum of kezav is sheker