Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayigash
To dedicate this lesson

The Hidden Sale

Before revealing his identity, Yosef commanded all others to leave the room (ibid. 45:1). Why was this important to him?


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Tevet 3 5782
We saw last week that the root shever (related to grain, sales, crisis, and hope) is a leading word in Parashat Miketz, and it actually is again in Parashat Vayigash. The great mashber (crisis) in Egypt was a result of the sale of Yosef, who was called the mashbir (provider) for the people of the country (Bereishit 42:6).

We will now focus on the emotional reunion between Yosef and his brothers. Before revealing his identity, Yosef commanded all others to leave the room (ibid. 45:1). Why was this important to him? Midrash Sechel Tov (Vayigash 45) said it was a matter of modesty, as Yosef was planning to show his brothers his mila in order to prove his identity. The simplest explanation is that it was designed to spare his brothers from embarrassment, as this revelation was going to include painful rebuke. The Ramban comments that Yosef did not want the Egyptians to hear about his sale into slavery, as in addition to embarrassment to his brothers, it also could cause damage to Yosef’s plans of settling his family in Egypt. Who wants to welcome to a prominent station in Egypt a group of men who betrayed a brother? Might they not betray Paroh and the Egyptians?

The Da’at Zekeinim also takes the Ramban’s approach and goes as far as to say that even Binyamin did not hear that the brothers had sold Yosef, as he was whisked away in the middle of the conversation.

The simple reading of the p’sukim also implies that Yosef kept the episode a secret the whole time. He told his fellow prisoners that he was "abducted from the land of Hebrews" (Bereishit 40:15). Even the brothers, upon discussing their guilty conscience over Yosef, did not mention the sale but just generally that they regretted not having mercy and wronging him (ibid. 42:21-22). It is even possible that Reuven, who had left his brothers when Yosef was in the pit, did not know they had sold him. There is no hint of Yosef telling his father how he ended up in Egypt, and the brothers do not mention it to Yosef when they discuss their relationship after Yaakov’s death.

The next one to bring it up, in the form of a hint, is the prophet Amos (2:6), who talked about the sins of Israel, which included selling a righteous and a poor person for money and shoes, respectively (see also ibid. 6:6). Chazal also attribute the death of the ten martyrs at the hands of the Romans to the sin of the tribes’ founders towards their brother. The emperor demanded of the rabbis to make judgment of one who sold his brother for shoes, and he carried out punishment against them. This, of course, is the basis of the piyyutim about the martyrs, recited on both Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av.

The sale of Yosef is what turned the betrayal of the brothers into a shever that was difficult to mend. True fraternity is the best remedy. Let us remember that during the upcoming fast of Asara B'Tevet.
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