Rashi explains that Yosef calms his brothers' concerns by telling them

וידבר על לבם. דְּבָרִים הַמִּתְקַבְּלִים עַל הַלֵּב – עַד שֶׁלֹּא יְרַדְתֶּם לְכָאן הָיוּ מְרַנְּנִים עָלַי שֶׁאֲנִי עֶבֶד, עַל יְדֵיכֶם נוֹדַע שֶׁאֲנִי בֶן חֹרִין, וְאִם אֲנִי הוֹרֵג אֶתְכֶם, מָה הַבְּרִיוֹת אוֹמְרוֹת? כַּת שֶׁל בַּחוּרִים רָאָה וְנִשְׁתַּבֵּחַ בָּהֶם וְאָמַר אַחַי הֵם, וּלְבַסּוֹף הָרַג אוֹתָם; יֵשׁ לְךָ אָח שֶׁהוֹרֵג אֶת אֶחָיו? He spoke words that found ready entrance into their heart saying, "Before you came down hither people spread rumours about me that I was born a slave; through you it became public that I am a free-man by birth. If I were to kill you what would people say? 'He saw a party of fine young men and he prided himself on his relationship with them, saying These are my brothers, but afterwards he killed them. Have you ever heard of a man killing his brothers?!”

How did the Egyptians not believe a someone could kill their brother if stories like Kayin killing Hevel, Esav wanting to kill Yaakov, and the like were part of world history?

  • Why would you assume the Egyptians would have known the Bible?
    – Turk Hill
    Dec 30 '20 at 20:09
  • @TurkHill Who says they would have known the Torah? My question is based on the premise that there were hundreds of loyal soldiers with Esav who knew they were going to confront his brother Yaakov. Moreover, it's plausible to suggest there were stories and lessons passed from one generation to the next, especially when it's as fundamental as Kayin and Hevel.
    – NJM
    Dec 30 '20 at 20:15
  • What makes you think that the Egyptians knew about Cain and Abel? Esau's soldiers were loyal and did what Esau told them to do. If Esau made peace with Jacob, the soldiers did likewise.
    – Turk Hill
    Dec 30 '20 at 20:24
  • למיעוטא דמיעוטא לא חיישינן
    – Julio GB
    Dec 30 '20 at 20:29

First, it always pays to see Rashi's sources, and to see if the question is answered there, even if the shorter version Rashi presents does not provide us with an easy answer. In this case, the source Bereishit Rabba 100:9:

וְלֹא עוֹד אֶלָּא עַד שֶׁלֹא יְרַדְתֶּם לְכָאן הָיוּ קוֹרְאִים אוֹתִי עֶבֶד וּמֵאַחַר שֶׁיְּרַדְתֶּם לְכָאן הוֹדַעְתִּי הוֹגְנוֹסִים שֶׁלִּי, אִם כֵּן אֲנִי הוֹרֵג אֶתְכֶם, אֶתְמְהָא, אִם הוֹרֵג אֲנִי אֶתְכֶם הֵם אוֹמְרִין אֵין לִשְׁמֹר אֲמָנָה עִם זֶה, עִם אֶחָיו לֹא שָׁמַר אֲמָנָה עִם מִי הוּא מְשַׁמֵּר אֲמָנָה. הֵן אוֹמְרִין לֹא הָיוּ אֶחָיו, אֶלָּא כַּתְּ שֶׁל בַּחוּרִים רָאָה וְקָרָא אוֹתָן אֶחָיו, תֵּדַע לָךְ שֶׁהֲרֵי הוּא בַּסּוֹף הֵבִיא עֲלֵיהֶן עִלָּה וַהֲרָגָן.

There in the midrash, Yosef presents two arguments. First, that the Egyptians would say that one could not trust Yosef, because he was not able to keep faith with his brothers, all the more so with others. And further, the Egyptians would say that these were not truly Yosef's brothers, but a group of fine men whom he called his brothers (to remove the stain of being a slave), and as evidence, see that in the end, he found a provocation with them and slew them.

In that source, it is not stated that brother doesn't slay brother. Rashi is reinforcing this implicit idea, to say that his killing them would be evidence that they were never truly his brothers.

The idea is a sort of application of Occam's Razor. Of course brothers sometimes kill one another. But if you didn't fully establish in the first place that these were really brothers, and then he eventually slew them, the more likely possibility (or, at the least, a strong possibility) is that he never was their brother in the first place, because he did not act to them like a typical brother.

  • Beautiful answer! I've long wondered why Rashi sometimes take liberty with quoting the text Midrashim, one recent memory being Bereishis (25:22) saying that Yaakov "runs and struggles to go to Beis Medrash" while Esav "struggles to go to Avoda Zara," opening the space for many Rabbonim to explain only Yaakov ran...yet the Midrash clearly says the opposite that only Esav ran. sefaria.org/…
    – NJM
    Dec 31 '20 at 16:04
  • 1
    @NJM thanks. Yes, it is often something worthwhile exploring. In that particular case, see this text of Rashi (dfus rishon, first printing), hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=45960&st=&pgnum=54 which DOES have the word "runs" in both cases. So the answer is that Rashi didn't deviate from the wording of the midrash. But seeing the source might give us impetus to check manuscripts and printings. Dec 31 '20 at 16:21
  • Wow, I had no clue other printings (the first no less!) of Rashi included Esav running as well. Thank you for opening my mind to a whole different perspective - I was never one to check alternative manuscripts, leaving that to the professionals.
    – NJM
    Dec 31 '20 at 20:58

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