Yaakov’s Disbelief is Replaced by Rejoicing in Yosef’s Survival

Act quickly and go up to my father and tell him, “So says your son Yosef: Hashem has appointed me ruler over all of Egypt. Descend to me. Do not hesitate. You will settle in the Land of Goshen and you will be close to me – you, your sons, your grandchildren, your flocks, your cattle, and all of your possessions. I will sustain you there because there will be another five years of famine – lest you become impoverished – you and your household and all of your possessions.”

Behold, your eyes have seen and the eyes of my brother Binyamin that it is I that speaks to you.

Tell my father of all my glory and all that you have seen. Act quickly and bring down my father to here. (Sefer Beresheit 45:9-13)

1. Yosef’s plan to persuade his father to come to him
In Parshat VaYigash, Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers. He instructs his brothers to return to the Land of Cana’an and to return with their father. They are to bring their families, flocks, and cattle. They will resettle in the Land of Goshen. Yosef will sustain them through the remaining years of the famine. He directs his brothers to share with their father all that they have seen. They should tell him that Yosef rules the Land of Egypt. They should describe to Yaakov his power and glory.

Why did Yosef direct his brothers to describe to their father the power and glory that he had achieved in Egypt? This was not an act of vanity. Rashbam explains that Yosef realized that he was making a substantial request of his father. He was asking that his father abandon – for an indefinite period – the Land of Cana’an. The Land of Cana’an was Yaakov’s legacy. He had overcome many struggles to secure this legacy. Now, Yosef asked that he forsake it! Yosef knew that he must provide Yaakov with a compelling reason. He must convince Yaakov that his survival depends upon this relocation and that through resettling in Egypt he indeed will be saved. The relocation only makes sense if Yosef truly has the authority or influence to sustain the households of his brothers and father in Egypt. Therefore, Yosef instructed his brothers to describe to their father his glory and power. This was absolutely necessary if Yaakov is to acquiesce to Yosef’s request.[1]

And they ascended from Egypt and came to the Land of Cana’an – to Yaakov their father. And they told him, “Yosef still lives and he is ruler over the entire Land of Egypt.” And he became faint because he did not believe them. And they told him all of the words of Yosef that he had spoken to them. And he saw the wagons that Yosef sent to carry him and Yaakov their father was revived. (Sefer Beresheit 45:25-27)

2. The brothers never revealed the full truth to Yaakov
The brothers ascend to the Land of Cana’an and they reveal to Yaakov that Yosef is alive and he is ruler over the Land of Egypt. At first, Yaakov refused to believe his sons. They delivered to him the message that Yosef had instructed them to communicate to their father. He saw the wagons that Yosef had sent for his journey to Egypt and he believed his sons. He believed that Yosef indeed was alive.

The Torah is not explicit regarding the conversation that took place between the brothers and Yaakov. The Torah explains that the brothers communicated to their father Yosef’s message. However, certainly Yaakov must have had many questions. He must have asked how Yosef came to be in Egypt and how he had ascended to power. The Torah does not directly relate how the brothers responded to these questions. However, the Torah does imply that they hid from their father their role in Yosef’s descent into Egypt. Also, apparently Yosef never revealed to his father his brothers’ treachery. This conclusion is implied by an incident in the next parasha.

And Yosef’s brothers considered that their father had died and they said, “Perhaps, Yosef harbors hatred against us and he will repay us the evil that we brought upon him.” And they commanded Yosef saying, “Your father commanded before his death saying: Say thus to Yosef, ‘Please forgive the iniquity of your brothers and their sin. They brought evil upon you but now forgive the iniquity of the servants of the G-d of your father.’ ” And Yosef wept when they spoke to him. (Sefer Beresheit 5:15-17)

3. The brothers feel forced to attempt to deceive Yosef
With the death of their father, the brothers wondered whether their relationship with Yosef would change. They suspected that Yosef had never forgiven their treachery. He had spared them for the sake of their father. Now, with Yaakov gone, perhaps, Yosef would seek his long postponed vengeance. In order to protect themselves, they concocted a fictitious conversation between themselves and their father. In this invented conversation, Yaakov directs Yosef to forgive his brothers.

Rashbam points out that this incident indicates that neither Yosef nor his brothers had ever revealed to Yaakov the circumstances of Yosef’s entry into Egypt. If Yaakov had been told, he would have spoken to Yosef himself and implored him to forgive his brothers. The brothers now needed to invent this dialogue because they had hidden from their father the full truth. Now, with his death, they found themselves at Yosef’s mercy and no longer could ask their father to intercede with Yosef. They believed that the only way they could protect themselves was by constructing a dialogue in which Yaakov instructs Yosef to forgive his brothers.[2]

4. The challenge faced by the brothers in convincing their father that Yosef lived
However, this conclusion creates a problem. As explained above, Yosef realized that his father would not abandon the Land of Cana’an easily. If he were to persuade his father to come to Egypt, he needed to convince him that he was alive and that he had the authority to sustain and save Yaakov and his family from the ravages of the famine. Without a compelling explanation for Yosef’s presence in Egypt, Yaakov certainly would question the credibility of the brothers’ account.[3] How then, did the brothers persuade Yaakov that their account was true and accurate?

Most commentators agree that the passages that describe the brothers’ presentation to their father provide the answer to this question. The passages explain that the bothers’ report was, at first, met with disbelief. Then, Yaakov heard Yosef’s message and saw the wagons he had sent. At that point, he became convinced that the brothers were reporting truthfully and accurately. He believed that Yosef was alive. How did Yosef’s message and these wagons change Yaakov’s opinion?

5. Yaakov was overcome by the weight of the evidence
Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Chafni suggests that the message from Yosef that the brothers shared with their father was not only the few sentences described earlier – in passages 9-13. In addition to that message, Yosef shared with the brothers details of his interactions with his father that were only known to Yosef and Yaakov. When Yaakov heard his sons relate the intimate details concerning his relationship with his lost son, he began to waver from his attitude of disbelief. However, he remained skeptical until he considered the wagons. The wagons provided the decisive evidence that his Yosef was alive. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Chafni suggests that Yaakov concluded that his sons did not have nearly the means required to purchase the wagons, clothing, donkeys, provisions, and other goods that they had brought back from Egypt. These could only be gifts from a very wealthy person. Yaakov considered his sons’ claims and the caravan of goods with which they returned and was convinced by the overall weight of the evidence.[4]

6. Egypt’s export restrictions
Rashbam offers an alternative explanation for Yaakov’s acceptance of the brothers’ claim. According to Rashbam, there were two factors. His explanation of the first factor is based upon a discussion in the Talmud. The Talmud explains that the Egyptians imposed a restriction against the export of domesticated cattle. They allowed animals to be exported only after sterilization.[5] Their objective was to sustain their monopoly on the species that they had domesticated. Their export restriction assured that their domesticated animals could not be exported for breeding in another country. Yaakov was well aware of this restriction. But he observed that the animals that his sons had brought from Egypt were healthy and apparently not sterilized. He concluded that the brothers could only have taken these animals out of Egypt with the approval of a high-ranking government minister.[6]

And he had another dream and he related it to his brothers. He said: Behold, I dreamt another dream. It was that the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed to me. And he related (it) to his father and his brothers. And his father rebuked him and said to him: What is this dream that you have dreamt? Will it truly come to pass that I, your mother, and your brothers will bow to the ground before you? His brothers were jealous of him. His father took note of the matter. (Sefer Beresheit 37:9-11)

7. Yaakov took note of Yosef’s dreams
The above passages discuss the second dream that Yosef experienced when he was a young boy living with his father and brothers. In the dream, the sun, moon and eleven stars bow to Yosef. The apparent message of the dream is that Yosef will dominate his brothers and even his father and mother. Yaakov rebukes Yosef. Apparently, he wished to communicate to Yosef and his brothers that the dream was a youthful, egotistical fantasy. He hoped to encourage Yosef to be more humble and to communicate to the brothers that the dream should simply be dismissed. However, Yaakov did not succeed in assuring the brothers that the dream was a harmless youthful fantasy. The brothers were jealous of Yosef and this second dream contributed to their decision to vanquish – or at least exile – Yosef.

However, the Torah adds that Yaakov took careful note of the dream. In other words, overtly Yaakov dismissed the dream as meaningless. However, in his heart he suspected that the dream might in fact be a harbinger of the future.

8. Now, Yaakov remembers the dreams
Rashbam carefully analyzes the Torah’s account of this incident and asks an interesting question. Most of the account is relevant to the issues the Torah is discussing. The Torah is explaining the antecedents to the brothers’ decision to rid themselves of Yosef. However, one element of the account seems superfluous. Why is it significant that Yaakov took note of the dream? Why does the Torah tell us that Yaakov suspected that the dream foretold the future? Rashbam responds that this information is not directly or immediately relevant to the unfolding account. However, it is important later in the Torah’s narrative. When the brothers told their father that Yosef is yet alive and rules Egypt he responded by dismissing their claim. Then he listened to their detailed account of their experiences in Egypt and the message that Yosef had instructed them to deliver to his father. He saw the wagons and the cattle that drew them. These cattle were perfect. They had not been sterilized. They could only have been released from Egypt by a powerful minister. Now, the dreams of which Yaakov had taken note were recalled. The brothers’ account, the message from Yosef, the animals that had come to him from Egypt – all of these corresponded with the dream that Yosef had related to his father so many years before. Yaakov suddenly understood that all that was now happening was the realization of those long-ago dreams. He believed his sons. Yosef was alive.[7]

9. What convinced Yaakov – evidence or his understanding of providence?
In summary, Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Chafni and Rasbam are both troubled by Yaakov’s change of heart. Both wish to identify the factors that induced Yaakov to abandon his initial disbelief and accept his sons’ claim that Yosef yet lived and was ruler of Egypt. However, they come to very different conclusions. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Chafni’s contention is that the brothers presented evidence and the preponderance of this evidence convinced Yaakov that their account was true. Rashbam disagrees. Their evidence alone was not adequate to convince Yaakov that Yosef was alive. Only when Yaakov considered the evidence and then recalled the long-ago dream did he believe the brothers’ account. In other words, Yaakov concluded that the wondrous survival and emergence of Yosef as ruler of Egypt was the realization of a providential plan revealed in Yosef’s dreams. Only when he recognized the presence and influence of providence could he accept the brothers’ claims.

1. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 45:13.
2. Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 45:27.
3. It is notable that Yosef suspected that Yaakov would not completely trust his brothers’ account of their experiences in Egypt or their claim that their brother was alive and ruler of Egypt. The Torah does not indicate the reasons for Yosef’s suspicions. However, it is true that Yaakov had reservations regarding his sons’ judgment. He resisted sending Binyamin to Egypt with them and only relented in his opposition when no other option remained. In the dialogue between Yaakov and his sons over this decision, it seems that he suspected that the brothers were not being completely frank and forthcoming.
4. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Chafni Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 45:28.
5. Mesechet Bechorot 28b.
6. See Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 25:19, 25:27 and 37:11.
7. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 37:11.