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(After Jacob's burial in Egypt) Joseph's brothers… said: 'Perhaps Joseph will hate us and pay us back all the evil we did to him' (50:15).
Rashi quotes the tradition that Joseph's attitude towards his brothers changed after their father's death. When Jacob was alive, they were welcome guests at Joseph's table. That was no longer the case.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch observes that without parents as the focal point of the family, it is unfortunately natural for siblings to meet less often and even to drift apart. Nevertheless, they interpreted the decline in hospitality as signal of worse to come.
It seems on the surface that the brothers' fears were not realistic. For when he revealed his true identity to them seventeen years previously, he declared: 'Do not be upset… that you sold me… It is not you, but G-d who sent me… and made me a ruler of all Egypt' (45:5,8). And for the next seventeen years they settled down comfortably and made themselves very much at home (c.f.47:27), without let or hindrance.
However, their fear of old animosities rising to the surface after Jacob's death may be explained as follows. In families, the death of the last key survivor of the old generation changes the status of all the members of the next generation. Whilst Jacob was alive, Joseph's brothers were 'all the sons of one man' (42:11). They were (Joseph included) sons - even though they had children and maybe grandchildren of their own. They were 'the next generation'. Once the father was no longer alive, they were no longer 'sons' - they were masters - each of their own domain. And this was reinforced by the different words of wisdom and blessings Jacob gave to each of his sons before his death.
That meant that after Jacob's death, the brothers became personalities in their own right, rather than satellites of Jacob. The feeling may well have been that Joseph was no longer their brother, but a very senior employee of Pharaoh - with power to match. And their identity was not that they were bonded together with him, but they were all very different people. In short, the death of the father meant a whole change in the reality, statuses, and interrelationships within the family.
To the brothers' credit - they faced their fears assertively and proactively. Instead of keeping their fears as food for gossip, they banded together and faced Joseph squarely. They came 'out with it' - they stated their fears clearly and openly. They thus averting a potential quarrel with much more serious consequences than the previous one.
That is an important lesson for those in unfortunate, similar, situations. The reality is that parents are not with children forever. When the children come together at the shiva, a vital topic of conversation should be positive means for continuation of the family…
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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