The Posuk says (בראשית פרק נ' י''ז):

כֹּה תֹאמְרוּ לְיוֹסֵף אָנָּא שָׂא נָא פֶּשַׁע אַחֶיךָ וְחַטָּאתָם

Translated as:

"Please, forgive now your brothers' transgression and their sin"

The question is how could they ask a King for forgiveness, as we know the Gemara (כתובות י''ז ע''א) says "A king who forgives his honor, the forgiveness of honor does not work"?

  • 4
    Possibly he hadn't been a king at the time of the transgression. Or possibly that he wasn't a Jewish king (as in he wasn't representing God's kingship).
    – Double AA
    Jan 6, 2012 at 2:11
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    He didn't forgive them though. Or maybe- a new peshat: he tried to forgive them but couldn't because of the Gemara. Jan 6, 2012 at 2:12
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    ..I thought Yosef was never King, only second next to Pharoah(Bereishit 41:39-40), as the answer brings up. Where is he made King/Pharoah?
    – Gary
    Nov 13, 2013 at 18:36
  • Who calls him king?
    – Seth J
    Dec 11, 2013 at 20:12
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    @simchastorah, you are mistaking one meaning of the word 'forgive' for another. The Gemara means it in the sense of 'to forgo', as in 'A king who forgoes his honor, his honor is not forwent.'
    – user9907
    Dec 27, 2015 at 4:06

2 Answers 2


Building on DoubleAA's first point, we find that with King David, when Shimi cursed him (II Sam. 16:5-8), David let it slide not only at the time (ibid. vv. 10-12), but even after he had been reinstated as king (ibid. 19:23-24). The Mishneh Lamelech (Parshas Derachim, derush 11) explains that David was of the opinion that during Avshalom's rebellion he had in fact lost his kingly status (the same view is also recorded in the Yerushalmi, Horios 3:2), so he was entitled to forgive the slight to his honor.

The same thing, then, would apply here, and even more so: when the brothers had harmed him, Yosef was far from being a ruler yet.

Arguably, too (even without considering the question of whether he was a Jewish king), there is the simple fact that a king is defined in halachah - in connection with what kind of animal he brings as a korban chatas for an inadvertent sin - as someone who has no superior other than Hashem Himself (Horios 10a and 11b, and from there in Rambam, Hil. Shegagos 15:9). Yosef, on the other hand, was subordinate to Pharaoh - רק הכסא אגדל ממך.

[Although this isn't really dispositive, since (a) the definition of a king might be different regarding shegagos vs. honor, and (b) R. Yehudah Hanassi asks there whether he would be considered a king for purposes of shegagos (כגון אני מהו בשעיר), and R. Chiya rejects that possibility only because he's subordinate to the Reish Galusa in Babylonia - but doesn't take into consideration the fact that Rebbi is also a subject of the Roman emperor. So perhaps indeed "a king" regarding shegagos is defined as the highest Jewish authority, without considering any non-Jewish overlordship.]

  • Why does David ask Shlomo to kill Shimei, according to this answer? Do the sources address this?
    – Baby Seal
    Dec 26, 2013 at 21:02

While David does not take action against Shimi ben Gera, who cursed him in his flight from Avshalom, during his reign, he does tell Shlomo to 'take care' of Shimi ben Gera, toward the end of his life. Shlomo essentially puts Shimi on a sort of house arrest, which he violates, resulting in his death, (See Kings I chapter 2 for the whole incident). He has Yoav, (who disobeyed him at least once from what I remember by killing Avshalom, Samuel II chapter 18), dealt with in a similar way, kings I ch 2 also).

Yosef, when kissing his brothers after hugging and kissing Binyamin, cries, (Genesis 45:15). Yonatan ben Uziel,(ibid) says that he cried because he saw that the brothers would be spread amongst the nations. Yosef also knew that the Egyptian exile was in full swing. I have heard, though I lack a distinct source that our egyptian exile, and perhaps subsequent exiles where at least a partial result of Yosef's sale at the hands of his brothers, and had Yosef held out a little longer, they may not have needed to happen, or perhaps not to the same extent that they did. I will try to find a clear source, but I am assuming that Yosef knew that the brothers' actions toward would have consequences.

I would argue that, in situations where a king is affronted while he isn't really or completely a king, he may be allowed to forgive this affront, or may be required to, but he is still not able to completely let the offending party off the hook. So Yosef forgave the brothers both because he was not yet fully a king when they had sold him, (though he had had the dreams and Reuven had lost the firstborn rights already, presumably passing them to him, see Yonatan ben Uziel genesis 49:3, and because he knew through prophecy that they would in later generations suffer for what they had done.

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