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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parshas Vayechi

Genesis 50:16 They sent a command to Joseph saying "Your father commanded before his death saying 'This is what you should say to Joseph 'Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for the evil they did to you.'"


Your father commanded: Rashi: They altered the facts for the sake of peace, for Jacob had never commanded any such thing, since Joseph was not suspect in his (Jacob's) eyes.


Rashi is telling us that the brothers fabricated this story - that Jacob their father had, in truth, never commanded them to tell Joseph to forgive them for selling him, since Jacob was certain that Joseph would not take revenge against his brothers for what they did to him in the past. This means that Rashi believes that Jacob knew of the sale of Joseph but did not suspect him of bearing a grudge against them.

In addition, this comment tells us that their lie was permissible, under the circumstances, because they feared that Joseph would do them harm and thus disturb the peace of the family. This idea is found elsewhere in the Torah and Tanaach. When G-d told Abraham (Genesis 18:13) what Sarah's surprise about having a child at such an old age, He made changes in her words so as not to make it sound as if she was being disrespectful to Abraham. G-d did this keep Shalom Bayis.

Also when the prophet Samuel was told to anoint David, while Saul was still King of Israel, he feared that Saul would hear of this and might possibly harm him. So G-d told him to take a calf and Samuel should say he was coming to make an offering. This was a subterfuge, only to disguise the true purpose of his act. Here G-d Himself was the one who commanded the dishonest act.

From these examples we see clearly that preserving peace between people takes precedence over the need to tell the truth.


But our verse is a strange example of this. Here the brothers were trying to save their own necks. The peace they were preserving was their own peace. One could conclude likewise, that perhaps every criminal can lie to preserve his peace and help him escape punishment. This is certainly strange!

Can you see a difference between our verse and the case of a criminal lying to save his skin?

Your Answer:


An Answer: Two answers to this question have been suggested. One is that at this stage of the story, the brothers had shown full repentance for their act of selling Joseph. Their protection of Benjamin was a virtual reenactment of the Joseph incident, this time however they saved their brother from slavery instead of selling him into slavery. So they were not saving themselves from a justified punishment, since they were no longer liable to be punished.

A second answer is that Joseph had nothing against the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, he was always friendly with them. So perhaps it was these brothers who had lied to preserve the peace of Leah's sons. They were saving the peace of the other brothers, not protecting their own peace which wasn't in jeopardy.


In many places in his commentary, Rashi stresses the importance of Shalom, Peace. "Great is peace and hateful is dispute."

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi."

The Institute is in the process of preparing the fourth hard copy volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further details at msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

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