It seems that over the last few hundred years all the commentators that have written on the subject, and all the darshanim I hear talking about it, take for granted that the entire episode concerning Yosef in Mitzrayim and his treatment of his family was really not what it seems, but rather Yosef was quelling his undying love for them for some deeper purpose.

Are there any commentaries, ancient or recent that explicitly say otherwise? For instance that he really was mad at them and was plotting against them but finally his brotherly love broke through? Or something along these lines.

(Please don't answer that the psukim implicate this. I'm looking for something explicit.)


Rav Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht ZT"L (Rosh Yeshiva of Kerem B'Yavneh) had an interesting explanation. For 20 years he was bothered by the question - for years, Yosef served as viceroy of Egypt, and sent no message to his father to tell him he was alive, and made no attempt to contact him. Why not? He gave the following explanation:

Yosef thought that his brothers had sold him as their own decision, but surely his father was looking for him. He spends 2 years in Egyptian prison, telling the cup-bearer (Bereishis 40:15) that he should help him get out of prison since he was stolen from his homeland (implying he wants to get back). Then, he gets out of prison, and names his children in thanks to G-d for helping him forget his father's household (Bereishis 41:51) and for making him successful in Egypt (Bereishis 41:52)! What happened between was Pharaoh's dreams. Yosef saw in these dreams, in addition to the message to Pharaoh, a prophecy being sent to him. In the dream, he saw the 7 cows which were יפות מראה (Bereishis 41:2) get devoured by the 7 cows that were דקות (Bereishis 41:3), and one can't help but notice that וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה (Bereishis 29:17). Yosef saw for himself a message in the dream, that the sons of Leah were to overcome and vanquish the sons of Rachel, who was יפת מראה. And then Yosef thought of how Yaakov had sent him to go find his brothers, despite Yaakov no doubt being aware of how they harbored hatred against him. And Yosef noted that in every generation of this Chosen people, there had been a chosen son and a rejected son - Avraham had cast away Yishma'el, and Eisav was cut out of the family in the following generation. Perhaps the children of Rachel were the next to be pruned out.

Then he sees his brothers arrive. And who is missing? None other than Binyomin, the other son of Rachel! Yosef assumes he must have been cast away as well, and he arranges to find out. Upon discovering that Binyomin is still around, Yosef decides it is his responsibility to get Binyomin away from them. So he arranges to have them bring Binyomin down, and then has Binyomin siezed in such a way that it seems to be his own fault. The brothers have only to let him go, since it is his own fault for stealing. After all, like mother like son ([see Rashi to Bereishis 31:33).

But to his surprise, Yehuda steps up and offers himself in Binyomin's stead! Not only that, but he has actually put his own life on the line for Binyomin's safety (Bereishis 44:32), and their father is very concerned with Binyomin's well-being (Bereishis 44:20). Yosef's notions are shattered, he sees that there was no conspiracy against the family of Rachel, and he reveals himself.

I heard this from talmidim of R' Goldvicht, but it can be found in אסופת מערכות.

  • 1
    That question is asked by Abrabanel and Ramban first. This explanation you quote is remarkably similar to that of R Yoel Bin Nun in the first volume of Megadim (c. 1986). See though R Yaaqov Medan's critique in subsequent volumes of the journal. – Double AA Dec 8 '14 at 5:05
  • @DoubleAA That all sounds great. (Asufas Ma'arachos was published before then, FTR) – Y     e     z Dec 8 '14 at 5:10
  • This answers "Did Yosef suspect his father of ill-will?", but the question above was "Did Yosef act with ill-will?". – msh210 Dec 8 '14 at 6:08
  • 1
    @msh210 DoubleAA beat me to it, but the controversy in Megadim does surround the more overt criticism of Yosef's behavior by R. Bin-Nun. Rav Goldvicht's explanation is very similar (though downplays Yosef's feelings of estrangement as a motivating factor in acting harshly towards them) – הנער הזה Dec 8 '14 at 6:45
  • 1
    @msh210 I was answering the question in the post body, not in the title, which was "are there any other commentaries ... that explicitly say otherwise" – Y     e     z Dec 8 '14 at 18:45

While not necessarily saying that Yosef was acting with ill-will or seeking revenge, R. Yoel Bin-Nun, as well as R. Chaim Yaakov Goldwicht (see YeZ's answer to this question) to explain that Yosef felt fully estranged from his family the whole time. In this article, footnote 2, the author points to an earlier source:

Prof. Yaakov Spiegel (Megadim 5) points out that the idea that Yosef was motivated by a misunderstanding concerning his sale and Yaakov's part in it and his realization of his mistake only when Yehuda presents his speech describing Yaakov's sorrow was raised about a hundred years ago by the writer Shmuel Shraga Feigenson (director of the printing press owned by the widow and brothers Re'em). This interpretation is noted at the end of the omissions from the Yerushalmi on Zera'im, "so as to fill up the page"

And for the record, the idea that Yosef was seeking revenge or the like is mentioned by the Ramban, but roundly rejected

For other (eight total) approaches, see here

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .