When Judah tells Jacob that Benjamin must be brought to Egypt if the family is to purchase more grain, Jacob asks his sons why they had to mention the existence of a younger brother. Their response is that they were directly asked:

The man asked straitly concerning ourselves, and concerning our kindred, saying: Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words; could we in any wise know that he would say: Bring your brother down? (43.7)

However, to me, it sounds like the brothers volunteer this information after being accused of being spies by Joseph (42.7-13). (Shortened extract below.)

And Joseph remembered the dreams which he dreamed of them, and said unto them: 'Ye are spies; to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.'

And they said unto him: 'Nay, my lord, but to buy food are thy servants come. We are all one man's sons; we are upright men, thy servants are no spies.'

And he said unto them: 'Nay, but to see the nakedness of the land ye are come.'

And they said: 'We thy servants are twelve brethren, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan; and, behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is not.'

Am I missing something here, or are the brothers fudging a bit of what happened?

  • 1
    Good question, and good observations on your part!
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:12
  • The brothers told Jacob the story twice. It is only the second time that they make it seem as though Joseph asked them. The first time (42:32) they tell it over as if they volunteered the information.
    – Alex
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 1:14

2 Answers 2


The Art Scroll commentary deals with this and explains that the pesukim as written do not give every word spoken. Consider that they had to arrange to purchase enough food for everyone (including Binyamin's children). Also this teaches the lesson for the future (Just answer the question as asked, do not volunteer information)

Since the obviously unfriendly viceroy had not asked if they had any brothers at home, they should not have volunteered it (Haamek Davar). They defended themselves against Yaakov's charge that they had loose tounges (Akeidah), saying that Yosef had questioned them exhaustively, but not in such a sinister way that they had reason to fear the consequences of a full response (Alshich).

Another point is that the medrash states that they entered Egypt from "different gates" so that the only way they could keep their stories straight was to tell the truth (besides not being good liars). Thus the information was already in the records and they were trying to defend themselves against a charge of spying.

  • Offhand, I think the problem began when they gave Yosef the exact number of brothers in the family. I.e. - in their 1st answer to the charge that they were spies, they begin by saying, "We are twelve brothers". Perhaps, since they revealed that number, they felt that they had to explain where the other two were, as they may have feared that Yosef would ask them, "Why didn't all of you come, where are the other 2 brothers?" They also coluld have lied about Binyamin and said, as they did regarding Yosef, "He's not around; we have no idea where he is."
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:20
  • 1
    @DanF since they were not liars (see commentary about not speaking nicely to Yoseph) then they could not tell an outright lie. Also based on what happened to Rachel, it would not be a good idea to say something that could cause something bad to happen to Binyamin. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:25
  • I assume that you are referring to Rashi's commentary at the beginning of Vayeshev that states that since they hated Yosef, they couldn't speak peacefully to him, either (i.e., they didn't fake it). It doesn't really state there, that they didn't lie, per se. Rather they acted the way they felt. Even if they didn't lie, in general, I would think that in order to save their own life and Binyamin's life (Ya'akov felt that some accident would happen to Binyamin - it doesn't state what KIND of accident), they would know that they were allowed to lie.
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:33
  • @DanF good point. perhaps because they realized that the answers had not been co-ordinated when they arrived, that they could not make up a story at the last minute. And as I said, they needed to get food for Binyamin's family as well but not take food for the brother that had been lost. Commented Dec 14, 2015 at 16:38

According to Rashbam Joseph did ask them, though perhaps not explicitly. And his proof is from what the brothers tell Jacob.

Rashbam Genesis 42:12

ויאמר אליהם לא כי ערות הארץ באתם לראות. שאם כן איך לא נשאר אחד מכם את אביכם כלומר אצלו ולדעת אם בנימין קים אמר להם כן והם השיבו שנים עשר עבדיך אחים [אנחנו] וגו' וכן כתוב לפנינו שאול שאל האיש לנו ולמולדתנו

Similarly, Ralbag explains that he did ask them but it isn't recorded in the Torah, and it was part of an elaborate argument that they were spies. Unlike Rashbam who cites the brothers' words to Jacob as evidence, Ralbag cites Judah's words to Joseph in 44:19.

Ralbag Genesis 42:9

כלנו בני איש אחד נחנו. קבלתי בפירוש זה הפסוק מהרב א"א נ"ע כי זה אמרו לאמת שאינם מרגלים לפי שהמרגלים הולכים בסכנה עצומה כפשע בינם ובין המות ואין מדרך האדם שישים עשרה מבניו בסכנה הזאת וזה שהוא אולי יקל באחד מבניו או בשנים אך לא במספר רב כזה ולזה אמתו לו מזה שהם כנים ר"ל אנשי אמת לא מרגלים וידמה לפי זה הפירוש שהוא אמר להם כי אין זאת ראיה שהם אינם מרגלים כי אולי נשארו לאביהם בנים רבים ולזה הקל בהם והם השיבו כי לא נשאר לאביהם כי אם אחיהם הקטן והוא הוסיף לענות להם שזה ראיהשהם מרגלים שאם היו באים לשבור אוכל היו באים כלם אך השאיר אביהם אחיהם הקטן שלא לסכן כל בניו והבחינה האמיתית תהיה בזב שהם יאסרו כלם מלבד אחד [אשר] ילך לקחת אחיהם הקטן ואם לא ירצה אביהם לשלח אותו הנה זה ראיה כי הוא הקל בשאר בניו והשאיר הקטן אצלו לרוב אהבתו אותו שאם היה אוהב אותם במדרגת הקטן היה שולח הקטן תכף ואם לא ישלח הקטן הנה הוא ראיה כי שלח שאר בניו להיותו מיקל בהם

Ralbag Genesis 43:7

העוד אביכם חי היש לכם אח. יתכן שכבר שאל להם יוסף זה ואם לא נזכר והעד מה שאמר לו יהודה אדני שאל את עבדיו לאמר היש לכם אב או אח ואחשב שכאשר אמרו לו כלנו בני איש איד נחנו שאל להם יוסף עם יש להם עוד אח ואם אביהם חי כי בזה תלקח ראיה אם הם מרגלים או כנים וזה שאם לא היה להם אב לא תיהי ראיה שיהיו כנים היותם כלם בני איש אחד וכן אם היו להם אחים רבים כמו שביארנו במה שקדם

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