As the story of Joseph and his brothers reaches its dramatic climax in this week’s Torah reading, we are left with many unanswered questions regarding this unique narrative. One unanswered question is how much did our father Jacob really know about the events previously described in the Torah readings? There are various streams of thought regarding this matter. Rashi and the Midrash seem to believe that Jacob, by the end of his life, certainly was aware of the entire drama and of the participants in the story. He indirectly refers to it on his deathbed, especially regarding Shimon and Levi, for their aggressive behavior towards Joseph.
Jacob also seemingly complements Yehuda for his original moderation in dealing with Joseph, and for his later courage and heroism in defending Benjamin and confronting Joseph. It is, perhaps, safe to say that even if Jacob was unaware of all the details of the story, he knew the general facts of the narrative, and was able to piece it together for himself.
Jacob’s reaction is seen in the blessings he gives to his children, his final words to all the participants in this drama. It is difficult to believe that Jacob would not have asked Joseph how he came to live in Egypt, and how he rose to such a prominent position of power and influence. One of the hallmarks of the relationship between Jacob and Joseph was the fact that, more so than the usual relationship between parent and child, they understood each other, and were sensitive to all the nuances of character that they possessed
There are other sources and commentators that seem to feel that Jacob never really knew the entire story that led Joseph “to cover the eyes of Jacob with his hand” so that he would never know the rift in the family, and the consequences that eventually brought the children of Israel to the exile in Egypt.
All parents know that there are things about their children and their progeny that they do not wish to be informed about. Sometimes, in family matters, ignorance is truly bliss, and in his golden years, surrounded by family, Jacob felt comforted. There also is a natural tendency among children to attempt to hide unwelcome news, evil tidings, and unnecessary aggravation from their parents.
Now that the family has been reunited in Egypt and is living in the land of Goshen in comfort, if not even luxury, of what purpose would there be to retell the bitter story of family discord? The Torah seems to indicate that the last 17 years of Jacob’s life were truly his golden years, surrounded by family, and respected and honored by the society it in which he now found himself living. Why burden the old man with a story that would only reopen wounds and create unnecessary anxiety and even regret?
Jacob will go to his final resting place emotionally whole, reconciled even with his brother Eisav, and certainly at peace with his children and family. Whichever of the narratives we choose to follow, the Torah has told us all we need to know about Joseph and his brothers and the descent of the Jewish people into Egyptian society, and their eventual slavery and their redemption.
Rabbi Berel Wein