What do the meforshim say on why Yosef didn't tell Yaakov he was still alive? Do any critique him?
Good question about critique. I know of one Holocaust survivor who asks this question every year, and is never satisfied with the answers provided (echoing his own life's experience trying to connect with his family after the war).
Some (I believe Netziv) indicate that Yosef saw his dreams as a prophecy he was ordered to fulfill, and thus was obligated to see to it that all his brothers plus father bowed to him. At least that's how I've heard it, though it is a difficult thought to swallow. If I understand correctly, Netziv even says that Yosef rode out to meet his father with the chariot and dress to make his father think it was Pharaoh himself, causing his father to bow. Again, make of that what you will ...
(Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom suggests that the stars dream actually had nothing to do with Yosef himself; it's that the cosmic destiny of the Jewish people would depend on the leadership of his great-great-...-grandson Joshua, who would lead the people into Israel.)
There are midrashim that speak of the brothers (having a quorum of ten) forming a cherem (solemn ban and excommunciation) on anyone revealing that Yosef was alive, which bound Yosef too until he got their say-so to repeal it. You can read that as you like; I think a minimalist reading would be that "the family dynamic was such that revealing it was effectively verboten" or something like that.
The simplest answer (I think it's cited in Rabbi Artscroll, I don't know who said it first) can be summed up by something my father said:
Yosef didn't want to be with his family if there was still the resentment and other messy dynamics. The only way he could see if he could really live with his brothers again was to see how they'd treat the new favorite child, Benyamin. He made it so easy for them to walk away from Benyamin (who'd been given all these extra favors, just as he had), yet they stood their ground and stuck up for him.
I once heard a family therapist note that there's an explosive confrontation between Yosef and his brothers (see especially Targum Yonasan on the opening verse of VaYigash), but then afterwards they can live in proximity. Yaakov and Esav have a courteous, maybe even warm, meeting, but then they go their separate ways.
Yosef's father also rebuked him for the dreams, and Yosef had no idea that אביו שמר את הדבר. When Yosef's brothers sold him, he thought his father was in on it also. Thus, he had no reason to think that contacting his father was worthwhile.
When Yosef heard his brothers speak about how much it pained his father that he was gone, Yosef realized he was wrong in thinking his father was in on it.
I read in Sefer Minhat Yehuda by HaMekubal HaEloki Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya, and he says that one shouldn't ask why he didn't send a letter to his father telling him the situation.
INTRO: First of all, I think he is going on the premise that he can't just get up and leave- was sold.
ANSWER: He thought his father had died from the pain of losing him. And this is proven from the many places where it says "is your father alive (43:7)" and it says later "is my father still alive 45:3" because he actaully thought that his father was dead. And you may ask, then why not just send a letter and if there is a chance that his father is still alive he'll get it? The answer was, he had actually thought that he was dead, and he know his parents were dead, and his brothers hated him (so why send it to them?).
First, we don't know. The reason is not given in the Tanach. So there's conjecture from the commentators and midrashim, both older and current.
An idea I learned from R. Ari Berman was the same one as @Chanoch brings, that Yosef thought his father was in on the plot that led to Yosef being sold. Note that it is not clear that the brothers sold him. They may have only put him in the pit.
I believe that R. Berman said that he had heard the idea from someone and had further developed it himself.
There are four "proofs" for this idea:
Again, we don't know the real reason why Yosef didn't contact his father. The goal of Exegesis is to find good ideas which fit the p'shat (literal text). While no one can say that this idea is "right," it is also true that no one can say that it is "wrong."
LeAniyut Daati, Yosef thought Yaakov knew he was alive because after Yosef was sold he realized his brothers were Sadikim. Thus, if they were Sadikim how could they lie to their father? Thus, Yosef would never suspect them of lying, also never suspect them of not telling him, while letting him suffer. If these were Sadikim, where is the respect of the father?
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