Missing under broad daylight-An investigation into Yosef’s disappearance and those complacent to Yaakov’s suffering
(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 10]
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Mikeitz, we learn of Yosef’s miraculous release from prison and elevation to the position of Viceroy of Egypt, the most powerful country in the world. As astounding as the story sounds, so are the questions it raises. It is well documented in Scripture, as common sense would likewise conclude, that Yosef’s father Yaakov suffered tremendously from the fact that his son Yosef was missing. He would receive no closure to his immense and debilitating pain that he experienced over his missing son, until he would finally get to meet his son and discover his true whereabouts 22 years later. Now, while one can perhaps understand the fact that Yosef’s brothers did not reveal his whereabouts to their father, in order to cover up their grave crime, why did Yosef himself not reveal this to his father. Wasn’t he aware, as common sense would dictate, that his father is in suffering and anguish over him being missing? Even if one were to argue that there was a period of years that he was simply unable to inform his father due to his restrictions of slavery and imprisonment, certainly nothing would stand in his way of informing his father once he was elected to become Viceroy, and in essence controlled the entire world. Is it possible that Yosef decided to conceal this information simply in order to get revenge against his brothers and hassle them as he did in this week’s Parsha? Could Yosef, the holy and righteous son of Yaakov, really agree to cause such pain to his father? Accordingly, it is most puzzling and astounding as to why Yosef did not in fact inform his father of his whereabouts the moment he was able to do so. While this basic and instinctive question is dealt with in various commentators of Scripture, surprisingly it is completely ignored in the commentary of Rashi, who is the commentator that is meant to explain the simplest of questions that rises from Scripture. It is this challenge against Rashi that is the focus of this talk of the Rebbe. The Rebbe explains how even based on the simple understanding of Scripture it can be understood that Yosef, in addition to his brothers and grandfather Yitzchak, were forced into concealing this information from Yaakov until the proper time would come 22 years down the line. What forced them to conceal this information and why would they agree to do so and be complacent to their fathers immense suffering, will be discovered in the paragraphs below.
Explorations of the Sicha:
1. Why did no one, including Yosef, inform Yaakov of Yosef’s true whereabouts and help bring closure to his immense suffering?
2. Why does Rashi not address the above question in his commentary?
3. What pact of excommunication did the brothers make against revealing the whereabouts of Yosef to Yaakov, and however were they ever released from this pact?
4. Why did G-d not revealed to Yaakov the whereabouts of his son Yosef and why did He agree to join the excommunication of the brothers against revealing this matter to Yaakov?
1. A puzzling question on Rashi:
It is well known that it is the way of Rashi In his commentary on the Torah to comment on every passage in Scripture that is not understood in its simple tense, and has simple questions raised against it. Accordingly, as a general rule, whenever Rashi does not comment on something which is not understood from the simple understanding of Scripture, one must conclude that either the matter is so simple that Rashi does not need to comment on it, or that he has already solved this query through a previous commentary. With that said, we must understand a most puzzling matter that is raised when even the simplest of minds reads the episode of Yosef discussed in Scripture, and most surprising Rashi does not address it at all.
Why was Yaakov not informed of Yosef’s whereabouts for 22 years? One of the most major and thought-provoking questions that comes up when one reads the episode of Yosef’s exile to Egypt and the ensuing suffering of his father Yaakov for a span of 22 years, is the fact that no one revealed to his poor father Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef. Regarding why the brothers would not reveal to the father what had happened to Yosef is seemingly explainable due to the fact that they did not want him to know what they did, even though in truth this too is quite puzzling that over 22 years not one of the brothers had enough remorse to tell their father. However, the main question is regarding Yosef himself. Even Yosef did not bother to reveal his whereabouts to his father until after the passing of 22 long years? Certainly, Yosef loved his father dearly, and as common sense would dictate, was aware of his father’s great suffering due to his sudden disappearance, and due to this he himself must have suffered tremendously as a result. Not only did Yosef suffer from the fact that he has been separated from his father, but also duly suffered from the fact that he new his father was suffering tremendously as a result of his disappearance. Accordingly, why did Yosef not do anything to end his own suffering and the suffering of his father and simply inform his father of his whereabouts, and at least inform him that he is still alive.
While possible explanations can be given behind why he did not inform his father prior to being emancipated from slavery and prison in Egypt, such as that he did not have the technical ability of informing him, why did he keep this information hidden for the next near decade when he was Viceroy of Egypt until he finally met his father. As Viceroy of Egypt, Yosef was able to do whatever he wished in the fastest and most efficient method, having the entire kingdom at his disposal. Why then would he choose to leave his father in grave suffering and mourning, and not simply send him a personal messenger, or message with a caravan traveling to Canaan, to Chevron, to inform his father that he is alive and revise his father’s soul. The distance from Egypt to Chevron is a mere four or five days journey and could be easily accomplished.
This basic question is raised by many commentators of Scripture who offer various explanations, and therefore the question is most puzzling as to why specifically Rashi the most basic of commentators who is meant to explain matters exactly of this nature, does not address this basic question. In our quest to discover the explanation behind Rashi’s silence, we will first introduce the answers given by other commentators and analyze whether they are acceptable according to Rashi and Peshuto Shel Mikra, the simple understanding of Scripture.
2. The answer offered by the commentators and their challenges:
Baalei Hatosafus-Yaakov would not have believed him: The Baalei Hatosafus explains that Yosef assumed that he would not be believed if he informed his father that he was alive and became Viceroy of Egypt, and therefore did not bother even trying to tell him. A proof to this perspective can be brought from the fact that Scripture relates that indeed when Yosef finally did reveal his whereabouts to his father, his father was a state of disbelief for some time. The pushback against this explanation, however, is that at the end of the day Yaakov did believe his son Yosef, in part due to the sign that he sent him. Accordingly, it is not clear why Yosef couldn’t have simply done this earlier and not wait 22 years.
Ramban-Awaiting the fulfillment of the dreams: The Ramban explains that Yosef did not desire to inform his father of his whereabouts until the dreams which he had with come true. Meaning, that his brothers would come bow to him twice, as was represented in both of his dreams. As for why Rashi does not accept this explanation, as is evident from the fact that he does not bring it in his commentary, several reasons can be suggested. There are several questions that can be presented against the above explanation, including: 1) Why did Yosef not inform his father in the seven years of plenty before his brother’s arrival. 2) Why would Yosef choose the fulfillment of his dreams over the relief of his father’s suffering? 3) Why couldn’t the dreams come true despite his father having the knowledge of his whereabouts, which indeed is what happened when they all came down to Egypt and prostrated themselves to Yosef?
Yosef thought that his father had instructed for him to be sold as a slave in order to punish him: Some theorize that Yosef must’ve been convinced that his kidnapping and sale to Egypt in the hands of his brothers was actually ordered by his own father in punishment for his behavior. This is a most wondrous theory which contradicts the simple implication of scripture and certainly cannot be accepted in Rashi.
After negating the above explanations, what then is the reason that Yosef did not inform his father Yaakov of his whereabouts, and why does Rashi not make mention of this explanation.
3. Yaakov needed to be punished for 22 years, for the 22 years that he did not honor his parents:
The sages tell us, as Rashi brings in his commentary on Parshas Vayeishev, that the reason that Yaakov had mourned his son for 22 years was in retribution for the 22 years that he was away from his parents and could not honor them. Accordingly, one can suggest that Yosef could not inform his father of his whereabouts until the 22 years had passed so Yaakov can receive his rightful retribution. However, the only problem with this proposition is that we have no indication that Yosef knew of this divine calculation of retribution for his father, and from where would he have discovered this. On the contrary, he was aware that it was Yaakov’s own parents who had sent him off to get married and hence G-d should not have any complaints against Yaakov’s absence. In addition, even if somehow Yosef was aware of the necessary 22 years of suffering that his father must endure, he could’ve still informed him that he is alive, and simply keep his whereabouts hidden from him. Furthermore, even if Yosef was aware of the need of his father to be punished, it is not his job to punish his father, and therefore being aware of the above retribution does not give Yosef permission to be complacent his father’s suffering by not informing him that he is alive. Excusing Yosef of not informing his father due to the pretense of having the decreed suffering of 22 years be fulfilled, is tantamount to excusing the brothers of their behavior of kidnapping and selling Yosef because they desired the dreams of Yosef to be fulfilled and desired to fulfill the 22 years of punishment that Yaakov needed to receive. Such an argument would be preposterous. We must thus offer another explanation.
4. The pact of excommunication made by the brothers against revealing what happened to Yosef:
To understand this matter we must first introduce Rashi’s commentary of why G-d Himself did not reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef. Rashi explains that the tribes, the brothers of Yosef and sons of Yaakov, had excommunicated anyone who’d revealed what happened to Yaakov, and that they joined G-d in this excommunication. Seemingly, this means that G-d himself would be excommunicated if He revealed this information to Yaakov. Accordingly, explains Rashi, Yaakov’s father Yitzchak who was aware that Yosef was alive did not inform his son Yaakov of his whereabouts, stating that if G-d himself does not desire to reveal it to him then how can he.
Who was included in the excommunication? From this commentary of Rashi it is evident that the excommunication only applied to specific people, and did not apply to Yitzchak, and therefore the only reason that Yitzchak did not inform his son Yaakov is because of the above-mentioned reason. This is also evident from the fact that G-d had to be specifically included in the excommunication. Accordingly, we can conclude that only those who were actually present were included in the excommunication. Thus, it remains to be understood the logic of Yitzchak’s refusal to inform his son Yaakov, as one can argue that G-d in truth wanted to inform Yaakov but could not do so due to the excommunication. In other words, just because G-d was forced into a bind of not telling Yaakov, does not mean that Yitzchak should not take the initiative and do so, as it could be that G-d’s true desire is to reveal it to him. Other questions that can be raised on the above commentary of Rashi include:
- Why was an excommunication necessary, and why couldn’t they just simply make a pact that they would not inform Yaakov? Likewise, why did they have to enter G-d into excommunication and not just simply ask Him not to inform Yaakov?
- When was this excommunication ever lifted that then allowed Yaakov to be informed of his son’s whereabouts?
- What forced G-d to enter this excommunication and why would he agree to do so?
5. A pact to not reveal the whereabouts of Yosef to their father until all of them agree to it, and receive the consent of G-d:
Due to the above questions, one must conclude that the content of the pact that the brothers made has been misunderstood, thus giving way to all the above questions. The correct understanding and explanation of the pact that they made is as follows:
G-d did not join the excommunication: The intent of Rashi is not to suggest that G-d himself was forced into some kind of bind of excommunication, which of course would not be binding upon Him if He disagrees with it, but rather that they included G-d in the ultimate scheme of things of whether to reveal to Yaakov the true whereabouts of Yosef. The Rebbe goes on to explain the intents of the brothers in the following way:
The Pact-Only if all the brothers agree may Yaakov be told: The brothers were worried that eventually, with the passing of time, some of the brothers would have remorse for what they did, and due to their inability to withstand their father’s suffering, reveal to their father what happened. This could jeopardize the lot of all the other brothers, risking Yaakov cursing them and causing them to be excluded from the tribes of Israel. Therefore, they made a pact at the time of the sale of Yosef that no one was allowed to reveal this matter to their father unless all of them agree to it, and anyone who would break this pact would be under excommunication.
The reason they joined G-d into their pact: The above pact did not suffice, as the brothers still worried that perhaps some or majority of the brothers would apply undue pressure on the rest of the brothers to agree to reveal the matter to their father. Therefore, they came up with the idea of joining G-d into their scheme, and that even if all of them agreed to reveal the matter to their father they would not be allowed to do so until they received consent or indication from G-d. Accordingly, G-d was never included in the potential excommunication was simply chosen as an advisory board to allow the brothers to reveal the information to their father.
The brothers in truth regretted what they did but could not tell their father due to lack of G-d’s consent: Based on the above explanation, we can explain that in truth many, if not all, of the brothers were filled with remorse for what they had done and truly desired to tell their father Yaakov and relieve his suffering prior to the passing of 22 years. However, they simply could not do so until they received the consent and sign from heaven. Thus, although the verse explicitly states that they had regrets for what they did, they still could not inform their father of it until they received a sign from heaven. Accordingly, one should not view the brothers as being of such cruel and evil disposition that even after seeing their father suffering for 22 years they still refused to tell him, as in truth they desired to tell him but were prohibited from doing so due to their pact with G-d, and the excommunication that they would receive if they bypassed G-d’s consent.
Why it eventually became permitted for them to reveal the information to their father: The above understanding of the pact that they undertook can explain why eventually it became permitted for them to inform their father of the whereabouts of Yosef. Once the brothers all regretted what they did and decided in unison that it was time to inform their father, all that was left for them to wait for was a sign from heaven, which eventually came. Now, what was the sign that they received?
What was the sign from heaven that gave consent to reveal the truth to Yaakov? Scripture relates that when Yaakov sent his sons off to Egypt to buy food for them, he did so being that he saw that there was Shever in Egypt. In the words of the verse, “And Yaakov saw that there is Shever/food in Egypt, and he said to his sons, I have heard that there is Shever/food in Egypt. Go down and buy for us some food.” Rashi comments that the word “Shever” actually does not mean food but simply means a sale item, and that Scripture chose to use the term “acquisition” to describe the buying of food in Egypt. Now, Rashi also comments that something magnificent is being related in the above verse which is beyond its simple interpretation of Yaakov instructing his sons to buy food. Rashi asks as to why the verse first uses the term that “Yaakov saw that there is food in Egypt” and later when relating this to his sons the verse says, “I have heard that there is food in Egypt.” Did he see it or hear it? Rashi explains that the term “saw” here is referring to a prophetic vision, that Yaakov received a prophecy from G-d that he still has a “Shever/acquisition” in Egypt. While G-d did not inform Yaakov directly in the prophecy that this refers to Yosef, the brothers who heard this prophetic vision from their father deduced that this must be G-d’s way of telling them that he now consents for Yaakov to be informed of Yosef’s true whereabouts. [Seemingly, the fact that Yaakov had to have a prophecy to inform him that there is food in Egypt, which is something that we can assume he must have already been aware of being that the entire world was traveling there for food, as well as the fact that in the prophecy the term “Shever” and not food was used, led the brothers to understand this to be a hidden message from G-d to them in reference to Yosef.] It is for this reason that as soon as the brothers heard this hidden prophetic message that their father received, Rashi comments that they decided to go down to Egypt not just to buy food but to redeem their brother for as much money as requested. Now, as for the reason for why the brothers didn’t immediately tell their father as soon as they learned of G-d’s consent, one can explain that this is due to that they did not think their father would believe them, and therefore they preferred to first go down to Egypt and redeem their brother by any means possible, and then reveal it to their father with the proof of Yosef’s presence.
Now, while the above explanation solves most of the queries that we brought above regarding the proper understanding of the pact that they took upon themselves, it still remains to be understood why in truth G-d agreed to their scheme and chose not to reveal to Yaakov the true whereabouts of his son Yosef until the passing the 22 years. For what reason would G-d agree to such a thing and why would the brothers ever imagine that G-d would agree to their evil actions and not consent to Yaakov being told. If even a human cannot be forced to agree to someone else’s conditions, certainly G-d is not forced to agree to them, and hence one must conclude that there was a certain reason which the brothers were aware of for which G-d did not want Yaakov to find out.
6. Why did G-d not agree to reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of his son Yosef for 22 years?
The Mefarshim suggest several reasons for why G-d did not want Yaakov to be informed of Yosef’s whereabouts, and thereby consented to joining the pact of the brothers:
- So the Jewish people be enslaved in Egypt: Some explain that G-d did not want Yaakov to be revealed of the true whereabouts of his son because he desired that Yaakov and his family descend to Egypt in order so his descendants can eventually become enslaved there and hence fulfill the promise he made to Abraham in the Bris Bein Habesarim.
- To fulfill the 22 year retribution of suffering: Some explain that G-d did not want Yaakov to be revealed of the true whereabouts of his son because he desired Yaakov to be punished for 22 years in retribution for not honoring his parents for 22 years.
- So the brothers not be cursed and excluded from the Jewish people: Some explain that G-d did not want Yaakov to be revealed of the true whereabouts of his son because if Yaakov found out he may curse his sons for having done what they did, which would then cause the descendants of Yaakov to be obliterated from the world.
7. Why did Yosef not inform Yaakov of his whereabouts:
Based on all the above we cannot explain why Yosef did not inform his father of his whereabouts throughout the 22 years. Yosef was aware that G-d Himself had joined the pact with his brothers, and that his father Yaakov could only be informed if G-d Himself consented. Now, since Yosef was not aware of any consent from G-d, therefore he refused to inform his father. This follows the same argument that Rashi writes to have been used by Yitzchak for not informing his son Yaakov of his grandson’s whereabouts. Rashi explains, as brought above, that Yitzchak did not inform Yaakov because he knew that G-d did not want him to be informed, and the same applies regarding Yosef.
How did the brothers, Yosef, and Yitzchak, know that G-d did not consent to reveal the matter to Yaakov until 22 years down the line?
The above explanation comes with the presumption that the brothers, Yosef, and Yitzchak, would have full knowledge of when G-d consents to Yaakov being informed. A very simple question that can be raised is regarding how exactly they expected to precisely know what G-d is thinking and what He agrees to do? Who says that G-d agreed to their condition of the brothers not consenting to Yaakov being informed until G-d makes a sign for them to know? Perhaps, throughout the entire 22 years G-d did not object to Yaakov discovering the whereabouts of his son, but simply chose not to show the brothers any signs of His consent as He did not want to have any part in the pact that was accepted by the brothers, which so to say forces Him to need to give them a sign. Likewise, how did Yitzchak and Yosef emphatically know that G-d did not want them to reveal this matter to Yaakov and therefore they themselves chose not to reveal it? We don’t find mentioned in Scripture any prophecy that Yitzchak and Yosef received from G-d telling them not to reveal the matter to Yaakov, or that He himself does not want it to be revealed. Now, even if one were to argue that the brothers were all aware of the above-mentioned reasons for why G-d would not want to reveal the matter to Yaakov, it would only explain why G-d did not want to reveal to Yaakov the whereabouts of Yosef, but he could have at least revealed to him that he’s alive. Hence, how did the brothers, and Yosef, and Yitzchak, know that G-d did not even want Yaakov to know that Yosef is alive?
Seemingly, the explanation to this matter is as follows: All readers of Scripture are aware that the forefathers, including Abraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, had divine prophecy and spoke with G-d regularly. Certainly, Yaakov’s own father and children were aware of this as well. Hence, the mere fact that Yaakov was not informed by G-d through his regular channel of prophecy about his son’s whereabouts was the biggest proof that anyone needed that G-d did not want to tell him, for the reasons that we enumerated above. Thus, Yosef and Yitzchak assumed that if Yaakov is still unaware of Yosef’s true whereabouts, then it is only because G-d wants to conceal it from him, and if G-d wants to conceal it from him, how can they come along and ruin G-d’s plans by telling Yaakov. This is even further emphasized regarding Yitzchak, as Yitzchak’s awareness of Yosef’s whereabouts were seemingly due to a prophetic vision from G-d, and hence Yitzchak argued to himself, that G-d could simply give the same prophecy to Yaakov if He desired for him to know, and the fact that He is not doing so must mean that it needs to be kept a secret.
This explanation is based on the simple understanding of Scripture, however, in truth some commentators explain that the brothers appointed one of them to go up to heaven and ask if G-d agrees with their decision, and that indeed G-d agreed to their pact. Other commentators explain that the brothers received a prophetic tradition that they would need to go down to Egypt as result of one of their brothers being sold there. Hence, they understood based on this prophecy from G-d, that G-d does not want to reveal this matter to Yaakov, as doing so would prevent them from going down to Egypt. The Rebbe, negates the above explanations from being accepted on Rashi, and hence we must conclude as stated above.
8. Why Rashi did not mention any of the above in his commentary:
The last remaining piece of the mystery of why no one informed Yaakov of Yosef’s whereabouts is why Rashi remained silent in his commentary and did not address the question. The answer for this is because in truth Rashi already addressed it in his commentary regarding why Yitzchak did not inform his son Yaakov. Since everyone who reads Scripture is aware that G-d would speak with Yaakov, the fact that G-d himself did not inform Yaakov of the whereabouts of Yosef, as is evident from Scripture, is a sign that he does not want him to know, and hence nobody revealed this to Yaakov, neither the brothers, Yosef, nor his father Yitzchak. Hence, we see that a quite complex and difficult question addressed by many commentators was so simple to be answered, that Rashi did not even find the need to address it.
 See Megillah 17a; Brachos 55b; Rashi Vayeishev 37:34
 Rebbe ibid then according to Peshuto Shel Mikra one must conclude that he did not have ability to inform his father while in slavery; Other Mefarshim, however, explain that the reason is because informing his father that he was a slave would’ve caused his father even more pain, and therefore he chose to simply remain silent. [Baalei Hatosafus 42:1; Akeida Mikeitz 29] The rebbe, however, rejects this notion from a standpoint of Peshuto Shel Mikra, as it would’ve been better for him tell his father that he is in slavery and save him the pain of unnecessary mourning, then to have him continue mourning his death forever without any closure. This especially applies in light of the fact that Jacob could’ve helped get his son released if he knew that he was imprisoned or sold into slavery against his will. [Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 4]
 See Ramban Mikeitz 42:9; Baalei Hatosafus 42:1; Akeida Mikeitz 29; Or Htaorah Vayigash 45:26
 Ramban Mikeitz 42:9
 Hamiaseif, brought in Likkutei Sichos ibid 6
 Megillah 17a
 37:33, based on the Midrash Tanchuma
 See Reim, Gur Aryeh on Rashi ibid; Levush HaOrah; Yefas Toar Bereishis Raba 91;
 Reim on Rashi ibid
 Maharik Shoresh 37
 Gur Aryeh on Rashi ibid; Rabbeinu Bechayeh
 Levush Haorah, brought in Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 24
 Reim on Rashi ibid; Levush Haorah, brought in Likkutei Sichos ibid footnote 25-26