I would love to see a discussion of the following point. In Vayigash, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, and tells them:

I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. But God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God... [Gen. 45:4-8] And so, do not be afraid... You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good so as to bring about the present result—the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.[Gen. 50:19-21]

Why did Joseph let his brothers off the hook so easily? He could have told them, “You did me a terrible wrong and you should be ashamed of yourselves. But I will not seek revenge, and instead will give you the means to survive the famine, because I am not evil like you.” But he didn’t. He said, “Don’t worry and don’t feel guilty: It was all God’s plan.” It appears that the sinners are even rewarded for their sin.

Is this the proper way to confront those who have done evil to us, even if we really think God engineered it all for His plan?

  • See Leviticus 19:18
    – Double AA
    Dec 7, 2021 at 17:01
  • "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen." ? Does not answer the question. Joseph could have rebuked them without taking vengeance or bearing a grudge. Dec 7, 2021 at 17:06
  • There are two related 'variations' of the prohibition of taking revenge (Lo Sikom and Lo Sitor). Your example is a textbook case of the second type. See for example sefaria.org/… Dec 7, 2021 at 17:21
  • Don't know if this is relevant, but the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, Likutei Amarim 12) teaches us to repay the offenders with favours, as taught in the Zohar that one should learn from the example of Yosef towards his brothers
    – Shmuel
    Dec 7, 2021 at 18:03
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    R' Elazar ben Azariyah in Bereishis Rabbah famously seems to disagree with your assessment that Yosef let the brothers off easy. The revelation of their hypocrisy was crushing to them.
    – Yehuda
    Dec 7, 2021 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


I saw two similar approaches to this question.

Firstly by Rabbi Avi Geller on Aish who notes that the grand reveal was carefully orchestrated in such a way that it helped to eliminate any bad feeling that Yosef might have had. He writes as follows:

Parshat Vayigash is the climax of the story of Joseph and his brothers. The master planner had his brothers exactly where he wanted them: To know that they were under his total control and he could easily have taken his revenge, while in fact he really loved them and could never hurt them. On the contrary, he actually saved them from the famine.

Joseph also harbored some bad feelings toward his brothers after being sold into slavery and being treated so cruelly. By putting his brother Benjamin into a similar situation and observing their efforts to save him, Joseph would be able to forgive them with a full heart. This way, the rift between them would be sealed, and the Jewish people would survive this ordeal!

Yosef did not need to become enraged because his unmasking proved to them that they had made a mistake. As they bowed down to him it proved that his dreams had come to prophetic fruition. As a result:

Joseph had accomplished his mission: The brothers realized their mistake, and Joseph was able to overcome his bad feelings toward them. The brothers were now able to return home. Joseph told them not to tarry (for fear they might come to incriminate each other), but to hurry and bring their father down to Egypt.

Another approach is taken by that of the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z"l. He notes that this episode represented the first true example of forgiveness in the Torah. He posits that the whole dialogue between Yosef and the brothers was contrived in such a way to allow the brothers to go through a form of atonement for their past misdeeds, and as a result there was no need for him to feel angry.

Rabbi Sacks writes;

That is the explanation for Joseph’s behaviour from the moment the brothers appear before him in Egypt for the first time to the point where, in this week’s parsha, he announces his identity and forgives his brothers. It is a textbook case of putting the brothers through a course in atonement, the first in literature. Joseph is thus teaching them, and the Torah is teaching us, what it is to earn forgiveness.

Firstly, he imprisons Shimon and demands that they bring Binyomin. He is essentially forcing them to re-enact an earlier occurrence, i.e. to return to their father without one of the other brothers. They then realise that they are being punished on account of their treatment of Yosef (see Bereishis 42:21-23) - so they now admit that they have done wrong. Then when Yosef plants the goblet in Binyomin's sack they confess to their wrongdoing (Bereishis 44:16). Finally when Yehuda asks that he be imprisoned in Binyomin's place (Bereishis 44:33) - Yehuda the one who originally sold Yosef into slavery is the one willing to pay the prize thereby representing a teshuva gemura (a complete repentance).

So according to this approach from Rabbi Sacks we see that Yosef did not need to harbour any sense of anger or bitterness. He concludes:

Now Joseph can forgive, because his brothers, led by Judah, have gone through all three stages of repentance: (1) admission of guilt, (2) confession and (3) behavioural change....Humanity changed the day Joseph forgave his brothers. When we forgive and are worthy of being forgiven, we are no longer prisoners of our past.

  • Very interesting, but does not answer the question. Joseph could forgive, love, not plan revenge and do good, and still rebuke. We are even commanded to rebuke wrongdoers: הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ -- You shall surely rebuke your neighbor. [Lev. 19:17]. Telling them “Don’t worry and don’t feel guilty: It was all God’s plan.” and nothing else just doesn't seem right. Dec 7, 2021 at 19:14
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    I'm sorry I disagree. Whose to say he let them off the hook. According to these views, the carefully orchestrated events helped them to see the errors of their ways. When they realised that they were mistaken Yosef felt both vindicated and knew that they had learnt their lesson. That being said there was no need to feel angry at them. It's a bit like Yom Kippur we spend the full day davening for forgiveness and even if we still feel bad about a wrongdoing we can rest assured knowing that Hashem as it were is telling us "Don't worry and don't feel guilty" because we gone through an atonement.
    – Dov
    Dec 7, 2021 at 19:19

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