Does Joseph Ever Truly Forgive His Brothers? | Aleph Beta

Joseph, Egypt, And The Healing Of A Family

Does Joseph Ever Truly Forgive His Brothers?

Immanuel Shalev


When you hurt someone, it’s not enough to just improve your character. Real transformation means being able to repair the damaged relationship as well.

In the story of Joseph and his brothers, does real reconciliation actually happen? Join us as we tackle the complicated story of the sale of Joseph and learn how to truly reconcile relationships with those we love. By taking a closer look at this story, we uncover a powerful lesson behind Joseph forgiving his brothers.

Dig deeper: The Story Of Joseph


David: Welcome to Parshat Miketz. In the second half of Genesis, we've seen a lot of deception: Jacob, Laban, Simeon and Levi, Jacob's sons, Judah and Tamar.

Finally, in Parshat Vayeishev, Judah started to turn the tide. He was willing to admit the truth to Tamar, when it would've been easy to cover it up. He began to correct his mistakes.

Immanuel: But there are two parts to change. There's correcting the flaw within yourself... and that's what Judah did. But there's another element: when there are people who got hurt from what you did, it's not enough to just improve your character. Real transformation means being able to repair the damaged relationship as well.

Did Joseph Truly Forgive His Brothers?

David: After the sale of Joseph, if Judah and his brothers really wanted to correct what they did, they were gonna have to, somehow, repair their relationship with Joseph.

Now, we all know how the story ends. The brothers go to Egypt to get food, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. They all cry, they hug and kiss… it seems like they reconcile. It's a happy ending.

Immanuel: But... that's not really what happens. At least not right away. Yeah, the brothers go down to Egypt and speak to the unrecognizable Joseph… but Joseph does NOT reveal himself right away. There's a whole saga of events that Joseph puts the brothers through before he comes clean.

Joseph accuses them of being spies, takes Simeon captive until the brothers prove that they're not lying, he plants money in their bags… and the climax of the story is when Joseph frames Benjamin by placing a goblet in Benjamin's sack and accuses him of stealing it.

David: What's going on here? Why doesn't Joseph just reveal his identity right away? Why does he put them through all of this?

Immanuel: We'll explore the fascinating story both this week AND next week, on the Parsha Experiment.

David: Hi, I'm David Block.

Immanuel: and I'm Imu Shalev.

The Story of Joseph's Brothers in Egypt

David: And welcome to the Parsha Experiment. As always, let's bring up our 20-second parsha recap.

  • Pharaoh has dreams, and he releases Joseph from prison to interpret them.
  • Joseph predicts predicts famine and he's appointed second in command.
  • The brothers go to Egypt to get food, and Joseph accuses them of being spies.
  • He demands that they bring Benjamin, and he takes Simeon as captive.
  • Jacob won't allow Benjamin to go, until Judah takes responsibility for him.
  • The brothers go back to Egypt, but as they leave, Benjamin is framed for the theft of Joseph's goblet.

David: Each stage of the interaction has its own fascinating and complex story to tell. While we can't get to all of it in this video – you can explore it together with Rabbi Fohrman in a course linked below.

Immanuel: We are going to explore the dramatic tale of the theft of Joseph's goblet. It may be the key to understanding the whole interaction. So let's read it together, and play our favorite game – where have heard these words or ideas before?

Parallels to the Story of Joseph and His Brothers in the Bible

David: After the brothers get food and are set to leave Egypt, Joseph commands his steward to plant his goblet in Benjamin's bag. Once the brothers are a few minutes away, Joseph says: קוּם רְדֹף אַחֲרֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים – go and chase after those men!

Immanuel: And it's not just that he chased them. Joseph says: וְהִשַּׂגְתָּם – and you'll catch up with them.

David: Wow, this sounds so familiar. Jacob and his family left Laban's home, and when Laban heard, וַיִּרְדֹּף אַחֲרָיו – he chased after them. And then: וַיַּשֵּׂג לָבָן, אֶת-יַעֲקֹב – Laban caught up to Jacob.

Immanuel: And it's not just the fact that the chasing is the same. The words that the Torah uses are also the same! רדף...והשגתם, and וירדף...וישג.

David: So maybe that's just a coincidence. One parallel is not enough to convincingly connect the stories, so let's see if we can find a little bit more.

Joseph tells to his steward: When you catch up to them, deliver the following message: לָמָּה שִׁלַּמְתֶּם רָעָה תַּחַת טוֹבָה – why have you repaid good with evil? Would you look at that! During Laban's chase, God appeared to him in a prophecy, and said: הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ – be careful, Laban. פֶּן-תְּדַבֵּר עִם-יַעֲקֹב – מִטּוֹב עַד-רָע; not to say anything to Jacob, good or evil.

Let's see if there's more. Joseph continues in his instructions to his steward; say to the brothers: "This is my master's goblet, וְהוּא, נַחֵשׁ יְנַחֵשׁ בּוֹ – and he uses it for divination!"

Immanuel: There are actually two connections. When Laban caught up with Jacob, he accused Jacob of stealing his terafim – his idols. But many of the commentators say that the terafim were actually something that Laban used for divination. Interesting... Joseph accuses the brothers of stealing something used for divination… just like Laban accused Jacob of stealing something used for divination.

David: But there's a textual connection here too. When Jacob was getting ready to leave Laban's place, Laban said: נִחַשְׁתִּי, וַיְבָרְכֵנִי יְהוָה בִּגְלָלֶךָ – I have used divination, and found that God has blessed me because of you. That's that same word that Joseph used – נַחֵשׁ יְנַחֵשׁ בּוֹ – he used the goblet for divination.

Immanuel: Let's see if there are any more connections. When the brothers were accused of stealing the goblet, Judah was so confident that it was a false accusation that he said: אֲשֶׁר יִמָּצֵא אִתּוֹ מֵעֲבָדֶיךָ, וָמֵת – with whomever you find the goblet shall die.

Does anything like that happen in the Laban story? When Jacob's accused of taking Laban's terafim, Jacob is also extremely confident that the accusation was false: עִם אֲשֶׁר תִּמְצָא אֶת-אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לֹא יִחְיֶה – with whomever you find the terafim shall not live. The brothers here responded to the accusation just as Jacob had.

From Joseph's Oldest Brother to the Youngest

David: And the parallels continue. When Joseph's steward searches for the goblet: וַיְחַפֵּשׂ–בַּגָּדוֹל הֵחֵל, וּבַקָּטֹן כִּלָּה… He searches starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest.

And now look at how Laban searched for his traphim: וַיָּבֹא לָבָן בְּאֹהֶל יַעֲקֹב וּבְאֹהֶל לֵאָה – and Laban went to Jacob's tent and then to Leah's tent. וַיֵּצֵא מֵאֹהֶל לֵאָה, וַיָּבֹא בְּאֹהֶל רָחֵל – and he left Leah's tent and went to Rachel's. Laban also searched his oldest daughter first and finished with the youngest.

Immanuel: It really does seem that the connection is real. Why are these parallels to Laban here? What are supposed to learn from them?

David: If we line up the parallels, we'll find something creepy: Joseph is the new Laban character – he's deceiving his brothers like Laban deceived Jacob.

Immanuel: But how could that be? Joseph's a good guy… and Laban's a bad guy!

The Brothers' Jealously of Joseph

David: It seems like the Torah is trying to teach us a lesson. This story that we have always learned as good guys versus bad guys is actually much more nuanced and complex than we thought. Like we learned in the story of Dinah and Shechem, the brothers' jealousy of Joseph was not random, it came from a place of hurt and rejection over being children of the unloved wife.

Immanuel: And now Joseph, finally in a position of power over the very brothers who victimized him, is faced with his own challenge, one that we've already seen in Jacob's family: How do you deal with being mistreated, with being unfavored? Will you confront openly and honestly? Or will you deceive in order to make things fair again?

David: Jacob deceived his father and brother when he felt he deserved the blessings. Simeon and Levi deceived Shechem to save Dinah when they felt that they – Leah's children – were being treated as Jacob's second fiddle. That feeling of being unfavored next to Rachel's sons also led the brothers to deceive with the sale of Joseph.

Why Did Joseph's Brothers Hate Him?

Immanuel: And now something similar seems to be happening with Joseph himself. We seem to have a role reversal here. If we asked: was Joseph favored or unfavored, we'd all say, he was Jacob's favorite!

David: But that's only one side of the story. To his father, he was the favorite, but the text tells us that his brothers hated him, vayisanu oto – that's the very same word used to describe how Leah was hated. Vayar ashem ki senuah Lah, God saw that Leah was hated.

Now, Joseph has to face the challenge of being unfavored. When Joseph sees his brothers for the first time since the sale, how will he react? Will he reveal himself and confront his brothers openly and honestly? Or will he he act as a vigilante and deceive his brothers in order to right the wrongs as he perceives them.

The Lesson Behind Joseph's Forgiveness of His Brothers

Immanuel: These parallels to Laban give us the answer. Joseph seems a bit bitter… maybe even a bit vengeful. He doesn't just reveal himself to his brothers. He plays around with them first. He scares them, he deceives them – in a sense, he becomes Laban.

David: There's another side to the Laban connection. If Joseph is Laban, then the brothers are playing the role of Jacob – they're the ones being deceived.

They first deceived with the sale of Joseph, and now they're being deceived… They're learning a lesson in empathy, what it feels like to go through it themselves. Jacob had to learn a similar lesson – he tasted what deceit really feels like when Laban switched Rachel and Leah.

Only after experiencing it himself – really, only after he could empathize – was Jacob able to reconcile with Esau. When Jacob finally meets up with Esau, he tells him "im Laban garti v'eichar ad ata" – I long-delayed confronting you, apologizing to you, but I dwelt with Laban and I finally realize what I have done to you.

That may be what's happening with the brothers too… before they reconcile, they must experience deceit themselves. They must go through a Laban-like experience before they can truly reconcile with Joseph.

Immanuel: And at the root of this terrible and emotional story is the lesson that in a relationship, there are no good guys and bad guys. It's never that simple. But learning to see both stories in your heart at once – yours and your brother's – is going to be the key to reconciliation.

The one thing we have to understand before we can fully appreciate the impending reconciliation is Benjamin's role in all of this. Joseph demanded that the brothers get Benjamin. It was Benjamin whom Joseph framed with the goblet. What does any of this have to do with the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers?

David: Join us as we explore this next week, on the Parsha Experiment.

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