What would Joseph say if he were to send a message from Egypt to his father Jacob?
"Dear Dad, My brothers sold me into slavery but I am alive and well"?

Would Joseph really send his father such a message? If he did, what might we expect his father to do?

(Joseph was not aware that his brothers told their father than he was killed by a wild animal.)

Was this practical problem explored by the various sources/commentators?

(The earlier questions in this posting are rhetorical. This last question is the nub of this post.)

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    I heard today funnily enough the above explanation in the name of the K'tav Sofer... Jan 2, 2017 at 20:41
  • It is still beyond me why Yosef couldn't come up with some way to notify his father he was still alive, no explanation is necessary... Jan 2, 2017 at 20:46
  • @ElShteiger I have seen that Yosef did not know that his father had not decided that he must be rejected like Yishmael and Eisav. Only after he heard of his father's mourning did he realize that he had not been rejected. Jan 2, 2017 at 20:50
  • Perhaps Yosef assumed one of the brothers would surely tell his father that he was still alive Jan 2, 2017 at 20:52
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    Were slaves allowed to send messages? And obviously by the time Yossef was a minister in Egypt he thought his father was dead because he asks his brothers if Yaakov is still alive.
    – ezra
    Jan 6, 2017 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


Yoseph And His Brothers: Why Didn’T Joseph Contact His Father?

Uses the statement that you make about Yosef not knowing that his father had thought that he was dead to answer your final question.

Yosef could not send a message to his father because he thought that he had been rejected by his father, just as Yishmael had been rejected by Avraham and Eisav had been (eventually) rejected by Yitzchak. Had he not been rejected, his father (as a major sheik in Canaan) could have found the cousins who took him to Egypt and arranged to purchase or ransom him from Potiphar.

Now that he was in power, it would have looked as if he was gloating over his good fortune even though he was in a position similar to Eisav (who also became a ruler and whose descendants became kings). Additionally, now that he was actually Par'o's slave and was expected to save Egypt from the coming famine, he could no longer get away no matter what he did.

In any case, he would have expected that it would not make a difference as far as the rejection.

This is the thesis of Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun. Rabbi Yaakov Medan objects to this and connects it to the necessity for Yosef to see that his brothers had done teshuvah for what they had done to him. Rabbi Bin Nun answers that this answer does not follow the pshat in the Torah including the statement that Yaakov thought that Yosef had died.

In any case, Rabbi Medan's explanation might not be a reason for the preceding years of not sending a message.

The following is an abridgement of articles written by Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, a teacher in the Herzog Teachers’ College affiliated with Yeshivat Har Etzion, and Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a teacher in the yeshiva, which originally appeared in Hebrew in Megadim 1.

Ramban poses a difficult question, one which continues to puzzle whoever studies the book of Genesis:

“How is it that Joseph, after living many years in Egypt, having attained a high and influential position in the house of an important Egyptian official, did not send his father even one message to inform him (that he was alive) and comfort him? Egypt is only six days’ travel from Hebron, and respect for his father would have justified even a year’s journey! (It would) have been a grave sin to torment his father by leaving him in mourning and bereavement for himself and for Shim’on; even if he wanted to hurt his brothers a little, how could he not feel pity for his aged father (Ramban to Gen. 42:9)?”

Abarbanel poses the same question, but more bluntly:

“Why did Joseph hide his identity from his brothers and speak harshly to them? It is criminal to be as vengeful and recriminating as a serpent!… How is it that as his brothers were starving and far from home, having left their families and small children and, above all, his aged, worried and suffering father waiting for them, did he not show compassion, but rather intensified the anguish by arresting Shim’on?” (chap. 4, question 4)


Our entire outlook on this story changes, however, if we accept the fact that Joseph did not know that his brothers had fooled his father with the coat, the blood, and the lie that Joseph had been devoured by wild animals.

Joseph’s wonder at his father’s silence is joined by a terrible sense of anxiety which grows stronger over the years, as seasons and years pass by and no one comes. Joseph’s anguish centers on his father: the voice inside him asking where is my father? is joined by another harsh voice: Why did my father send me to my brothers that day? He concludes that his brothers must have succeeded in convincing Jacob, and he has been disowned. Years later, when Joseph rides in the viceroy’s chariot, when he shaves his beard and stands before Pharaoh, it is clear to him that God must have decreed that his life would be lived separately from his family’s. He gives expression to this feeling in the name he gives his eldest son, born of an Egyptian wife:

Miketz 41:51

And Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, for "God has caused me to forget all my toil and all my father's house."

To forget his father’s house!

Joseph’s entire world is built on the misconception that his father has renounced him, while Jacob’s world is destroyed by the misconception that Joseph is dead. Joseph’s world is shaken when his brothers stand before him, not knowing who he is, and bow down to him. At that moment, he must question this new reality –

Vayigash 44:24:30

Joseph needs to hear no more. He finally realizes the naked truth: No one has cut him off at all! He has not been forgotten!

Does he live? Is he yet my father, who loves me and has not forgotten me? Is it possible?

  • This answer follows numerous Pshatim, picturing Yossef as a layman, having no divine intentions and plans, deciding "here and now". I, personally, resent such answers. For me, Yossef was a mastermind, a Tzaddik having all intentions for the sake of Heavens, he was a visioner seeking (at least) to solve the prophecy of the Egypt exile. He was a loving son and student and the successor of his father tradition.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 25, 2017 at 19:21
  • @alberko Yosef as a tzadik thoughts that this was the decree that had been made on him and as such had to be accepted. He also realized that he had to put his past behind him so that he could fulfill the job that Hashem had assigned him. Dec 25, 2017 at 19:44
  • "this was the decree that had been made on him" - by whom, his father? Did he give up his divine dreams? How about his father keeping the dreams? Dont get me wrong, all local tirutzim are good to soothe a questioner, but I am looking for a big picture. This guy had the best relationship with his father of all the families in the Torah, how do you expect him to even conceive that his father would turn on him?
    – Al Berko
    Dec 25, 2017 at 19:57
  • @alberko He realized that no matter what the relationship with his father, he could have blown it with the brothers and the family and that his father would do what is best according to Hashem for the future of the family. Remember that as far as he knew his father thought of the dreams as major insult. No matter how much his father loved him he would still do what Hashem wanted. Dec 25, 2017 at 22:34

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