Master of Memory VI-A Father's Lesson
“Emotions are the most basic form of communication between children & parents (Rav Noach Orloweck).”
“And they told him, saying, ‘Joseph is still alive,’ also that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt; but his heart was full of daggers, for he could not believe them (Genesis 45:26).”
“Joseph is still alive,” is a direct quote. “He is ruler over all the land of Egypt,” is an indirect quote. Why does the verse switch from a direct to an indirect quote?
The brothers observed Jacob’s reaction to their declaration that Joseph was alive. They saw something that made them hesitate midsentence and speak of Joseph as the ruler over Egypt with less emphasis. What did they observe? That “his heart was full of daggers.” The minute they said Joseph was still alive Jacob realized that when they came and showed him Joseph’s bloodstained tunic, indicating that a wild beast had devoured him; they had been lying. Their words of long ago were the daggers in Jacob’s heart.
I suspect that Jacob’s reaction was less of an emotional response than a lesson; “All his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to comfort himself, and said: ‘For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son’ (Genesis 37:35).” Jacob has been using his emotional responses to his children as his way of teaching them.
The brothers had never paid attention to their father’s feelings: Jacob sent them to Egypt to buy food. They use this as an opportunity to search for their long-lost brother. I assume that the search added a few days to their trip to Egypt. They finally go to the Viceroy to purchase food and he imprisons them for a three-day period, adding quite a bit of time to their trip, but we never find a single indication that the brothers even considered whether their father would be worried about the unexpected length of their trip to Egypt!
Perhaps the brothers were uninterested in Jacob’s feelings because they mistrusted them; it was his feelings for Rachel that displaced Leah, and made Joseph the favorite son, the one who would wear the hated Coat of Many Colors.
Judah disappeared from the family for many years because the brothers felt that he had failed in his leadership role when he chose to turn a profit from the sale of Joseph, and somehow he returns to the family, and there seems to be no concern to explain to Jacob what happened with Judah.
We never find Jacob bemoaning the loss of another son during all the years when Judah had moved away. Surely this was a man whose feelings could not be trusted.
Reuben makes a ridiculous offer to his father: “you may slay my two sons if I fail to bring him back to you (to see 42:37).” It seems that Reuben believes that his father could shrug off the loss of Reuben’s sons! They don’t trust Jacobs feelings.
They are so cold to Jacob’s feelings that when he says to them, “Why did you treat me so ill by telling the man that you had another brother (43:6)?” They miss that Jacob is speaking as “Israel,” they miss that Jacob is speaking of his experience, “treat me so ill,” meaning, “you were not thinking of me!”
Judah is frustrated with his father; “For had we not delayed, by now we could have returned twice (Verse 10).” Is this the way a child should speak to a father?
These are men who seem totally inconsiderate of their father.
Joseph has prepared them to change the way they relate to Jacob, as we saw in “Master of Memory V: What Was in His Heart.” Judah’s long speech to the Egyptian viceroy is all about Jacob’s feelings. The brothers are prepared to pay attention to their father in a way they never had before.
They still had to learn one more important lesson: they had to learn how their words and behavior affected their father. They prepared Jacob for the news that Joseph was alive; fearing that a sudden announcement might shock and harm Jacob, the brothers sent one of his granddaughters to prepare him. She played her harp, and sang gently that Joseph was still alive and that he was the ruler of Egypt. Slowly, Jacob’s long sadness evaporated and he blessed her for having lifted his spirits (Chapters of Rabbi Eliezer). We will have to examine that story more carefully in another essay, but clearly the brothers were prepared to pay attention to Jacob’s feelings. They were not prepared for his emotional response to their words; they were not prepared for his response to their admission that they had been lying to him for more than two decades even as they watched him in constant grief. Their words were daggers in his heart.
Their admission that they were liars and that they had been unwilling to consider his agony more hurt him than the news of Joseph being alive brought him joy! His disappointment in then was greater than his joy over the news! Jacob’s emotional response to the news and their admission was to convey to them that his concern over they are spiritual well-being was far more important to him than the news that Joseph was alive!
Could he have conveyed a more important lesson?
I think not.
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