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.)


5 Answers 5


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
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 5:05
  • @DoubleAA That all sounds great. (Asufas Ma'arachos was published before then, FTR) Commented Dec 8, 2014 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
    Commented Dec 8, 2014 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) Commented Dec 8, 2014 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" Commented Dec 8, 2014 at 18:45

Radak indeed does. He says that Yosef was trying to cause them emotional anguish without hurting them physically or monetarily (Bereishis 42:9,17;44:1).

  • I actually just saw that this week! Ty
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 0:33
  • user6591 that's awesome! On alhatorah.org? It's my go to site, I'm absolutely enamored with it.
    – Nahum
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 1:01
  • No. I always forget about alhatorah and head to Sefaria. I have an old, used print copy of Radak printed together with Rashbam that I got in a sale once upon a time, that I forgot I had:)
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 13:44
  • Another interesting idea I saw this week was Rav JB Soleveitchik in the Mesores HaRav Chumash. He was going with Ramban approach, but added that Yosef already recognized in his brothers faces that they were changed, but he was trying to get them to recognize that in themselves so as to be able to survive the exile in Egypt.
    – user6591
    Commented Dec 21, 2023 at 13:47

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


In his commentary to Genesis 45:1 Shadal writes:

בתחלה היה בלבו לעכב אצלו בנימין ולשלח את אחיו בלי שיתודע אליהם ועתה כשאמר לו יהודה והיה כראותו כי אין הנער ומת נכמרו רחמיו על אביו ומצא עצמו מוכרח להניח לבנימן שישוב אל אביו לבלתי ימות אביו אך עם כל זה חשקו לקרב אליו בנימין נשאר בתקפו והנה לא מצא תחבולה לשלח את בנימין אל אביו וגם לקרבו אצלו אלא בשיתודע אליהם ויקראם כלם לבא אצלו

Originally, he had intended to detain Benjamin with him and to send his brothers away without revealing himself to them. However, once Judah had said to him that Jacob, "having seen that the lad is not, will die," pity was kindled within him for his father, and he found himself constrained to let Benjamin go back to his father, so that his father should not die, Nevertheless, his desire to keep Benjamin near to him remained in force, and the only stratagem he could find to send Benjamin back to his father and also to keep him close was to make himself known to his family and to invite them all to come to him.

(Klein translation)

It sounds like Joseph's original plan was to "kidnap" Benjamin and be done with his family. He only changed his mind when he realized that it would kill his father.


If you really want recent, here is my peirush (updated with just this piece separated out) that deals with this at length. [The section starts on page 68, Parshas Vayeishev, and continues thru Parshas Vayigash up to page 84. The part most relevant to this question is at the beginning pp. 68-71, and the end pp. 82-84, but it's all on the same issue.]

The basic idea: We should deal with the story knowing that the brothers had full bechirah and could have chosen wrongly (like all of us) - and that some of their choices could have destroyed their position in the family forever. We are used to thinking of them as the great tzaddikim they became, but that is at the end, after Yehudah offered himself as a slave to save Binyamin. In the middle of the story they were at terrible risk of becoming more like their uncle Eisav ח"ו, left out of the future of Israel because they hadn't measured up.
When the brothers took a step toward reconciliation, Yosef would burst into tears and find it hard to continue what he was doing. But they had deeply wronged him and hurt him. He starts off their reunion able to abandon them and push them away (ויתנכר אליהם) - and at that point they fully deserved it. As they move away from the sin and toward complete repentance, he moves as well, toward complete acceptance and reconciliation.
Yosef did some of the arranging, but I don't think it was "all part of a master plan by Yosef". HaKadosh Boruch Hu was the one who had a master plan, to give them a chance to fix things.
I don't know if this really qualifies for your request for "bad intentions". They were not bad, but initially Yosef's intentions were definitely harsh, a response to what his brothers had done to him.

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