The Secret Joseph Kept All His Life
There is a secret Yoseph (Joseph) kept all his life. He was the favorite son of his father Ya’akov from his beloved wife, who dreamed two prophetic dreams about the family. But those dreams were not the secret Joseph kept in his heart. What was that secret Joseph kept, because the Torah tells us nothing about it?
Ya’akov’s sons sold Yoseph in slavery in Egypt and he would not see him for 22 years until they were once again united.
We should notice a peculiar pattern in the life of Ya’akov and his father Yitschak:
- Yitschak is bereft of his son for 22 years
- Ya’akov is with Yoseph for 17 years
- Ya’akov is bereft of Yoseph for 22 years
- Ya’akov is again with Yoseph for 17 years.
In other words, as Ya’akov made his father bereaved for 22 years, so he bereaved of his beloved son for 22 years. For 22 years Yitschak grieved the absence of his son, because Ya’akov willingly separated himself from his father; and Ya’akov was suffering the same grief for his son Yoseph as his father did suffer: a measure-for-measure justice.
On Ya’akov’s departure from the land of Kanaan to Egypt where he would be united with Yoseph, YHVH promised him that he would make him a great nation in the foreign land, and lead him up again to the Land promised to his fathers Avraham and Yitschak (Gen 46:3-4).
The fulfilment of this promise, his thoughts and hopes, his longings for the Land, were all he had in his life in Egypt.
When the patriarch Ya’akov blessed his sons at the end of his life, it was not the fulfilment of this promise in the time of Yehoshua he had in mind, because there is not a single reference in his blessing that announced the possession of the Promised Land by Yehoshua.
On the contrary, the patriarch presupposed not only the increase of his descendants into a great nation, but also the conquest of Kanaan, as already fulfilled, because it had been promised. The ultimate future of the patriarch’s blessing, therefore, goes beyond his time and extends to the ultimate fulfilment of the promises of YHVH for the end of time.
But, when Ya’akov blessed his sons, did he know of the sin his sons did to Yoseph? Because, a fact is that no reference was made by Ya’akov in his blessing to their sin against Yoseph.
Ya’akov indeed mentioned the sin of his son Reuven against his father for seducing his wife Bilhah (Gen 49:3-4) and the violence of Shimon and Levi (Gen 49:5-7) against the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen 34:25) in the blessing of the tribes. But not a word of Yoseph’s slavery in Egypt. Or, perhaps Ya’akov did not know about this sin, because Yoseph did not tell him.
We will suggest that Ya’akov had no knowledge of the sin and this can be supported by the clues we can gather in his final address to his sons.
First, we should note that in his blessings on his sons, Ya’akov did not bless his first-born son Reuven at all. In fact, he removed him from the right of the first-born, because he defiled his father’s bed with Bilhah. By the withdrawal of the rank belonging to the first-born, Reuven lost his right in Israel, so that his tribe had no position of influence in the nation.
The tribal leadership was transferred to Yehudah and the double portion to Yoseph: rights that belonged to Reuven. Thus, the first-born of the beloved Rachel took the place of the first-born of the unloved Leah.
Had Ya’akov known that it was Reuven who wanted to save his beloved son and return him to his father, his final words to him could have been more positive.
That Ya’akov did not know about the sin is also supported by the blessing on Yehudah. Yehudah, the one who sold Yoseph to slavery, was the one to receive a royal blessing of kingship, from whom the scepter shall not turn aside, between his feet, until Shiloh comes (Gen 49:10).
But, Yehudah, in contrast to Reuven, did not even consider liberating Yoseph; he just sold him for money. Yet, it was Reuven who lost the royal crown to Yehudah.
Reuven was not the only one who was not blessed; Shimon and Levi were actually cursed by Ya’akov. The curses Shimon and Levi received were not because of Shimon’s participation in the brothers’ sin, but because of the violence both brothers did on Shechem, as a revenge for the rape of their sister Dinah.
We should recall that it was Shimon who had cast him into the pit and it was he who said to Levi, “Behold, that dreamer is coming” (Gen 37:19). And it was Yoseph who took Shimon and arrested him before the eyes of the his brothers in order to test them. But not a word is mentioned in these curses concerning the selling of Yoseph in slavery.
But, how much different is Mosheh when he blessed Levi in Deu 33:8 with the priesthood. Of this transformation of the curse into a blessing, there is not the slightest hint of Ya’akov’s curse.
Or, for instance the blessing on Dan to rightly rule his people as one of the tribes of Israel (Gen 49:16).
Also, in support of our suggestion, the patriarch first blessed the sons of the unloved Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, followed by the sons of the beloved Rachel. Therefore, had Ya’akov known that his sons had sold his beloved Yoseph to slavery and even attempted to kill him out of jealousy, we can expect that his blessings could have been quite different.
The Torah is unusually silent whether Ya’akov knew about his sons’ sin. The fact that no reference was made by Ya’akov in his blessing to their sin against Yoseph, does not prove that he had forgiven the sin of his sons. Nor does it prove that he had instructed his sons to beg Yoseph for forgiveness, even though Yoseph had been forgiving and kind to them.
Israel was dying and wished to be buried in the field Avraham had purchased for the family. He stated that this was where Avraham and Sarah were buried, and where Yitschak and Rivkah were buried too, and where he buried Leah. We would think that Israel would want to be laid to rest with his beloved wife Rachel, but he requested to be buried with Leah (Gen 49:31).
By now we should have come to the conclusion of what secret Yoseph (Joseph) kept all his life.
There is not a single reference in the Scripture that Ya’akov had ever known about the sin of his sons against Yoseph. To assume that Ya’akov had forgiven the sin of his sons, because the Scripture is silent on this issue, is to adopt an argument out of silence. And an argument out of silence is not an argument at all. Therefore, we can conclude that Joseph kept this secret all his life.
Had Joseph told his father this secret and thus had exposed his brothers’ sin against him, he would have again spoken evil against his brothers, as he was doing it when he was young and immature informing his father against his brothers.
Yoseph being a good brother did not want to cause such a pain in the hearts of his brothers. Had he told his father the truth, they would have left the family and scattered in Egypt, and there would have been no Exodus and Israel to redeem.
Joseph being a good son did not want to expose the secret and break the heart of his old father, who had already suffered enough twenty-two years bereaving for him. Had Yoseph told his father, Ya’akov could have died in peace but in a heartbreaking pain and could not have called his children the “twelve tribes of Israel” in his final address to the family before his death (Gen 49:28).
But, Joseph did not reveal the secret he kept all his life. He grew up from being daddy’s boy to becoming a wise and mature man who deserved to receive the double portion of the first-born by having two tribes in Israel.
The Yoseph story is the first recorded moment in the Scripture when one human being forgives another. Yoseph forgave his brothers, but “Is there forgiveness without repentance?“
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.