Parshas Vayigash:
With Malice Toward None

By Rabbi Ephraim Polatsek

"And Yosef said to his brothers ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him for they were alarmed before him.... ‘And now be not distressed nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to provide sustenance G-d has sent me before you’" (Bereshis 45:3-5).

With these words, Yosef is seemingly absolving his brothers of any responsibility for having sold him into slavery. Rather, he reasons, G-d had sent him for a good cause.

This raises some difficulties, for whenever one causes harm to another this harm has been decreed from G-d. Therefore, how can one bear ill will toward the perpetrator? The answer is, that although this harm was preordained, it did not have to come about through this person. Therefore, the responsibility for the act falls on the one who, of his own free will, chose to do harm. This returns us to the original question. Why wasn’t Yosef angry with his brothers even though good resulted from their act? Furthermore, if Yosef didn’t bear any grudge against his brothers, why then did he put them through this harrowing ordeal?

To answer these questions, let us backtrack to the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev specifically, to the quarrel between Yosef and the brothers. The Pasuk states "And Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father." Our sages teach us that Yosef suspected the brothers of eating the flesh of an animal while it was alive. This is a capital crime under the "Seven Noahide Laws". Additionally, our Sages list several other grievous sins of which Yosef mistakenly suspected them. The brothers thus considered Yosef a Rodeif, one who is attempting to kill someone, and therefore they felt justified in doing everything in their power to stop him, even if it meant taking his life. Yosef understood that when they sold him it was because they felt they were doing the right thing. They weren’t selling him with evil intentions - only to protect themselves. Therefore, Yosef harbored no ill feelings toward his brothers. However, Yosef felt that although the brothers had good reasons for their actions, knowing the closeness Yaakov felt with Yosef, they should have realized the effect Yosef’s death would have on Yaakov’s health.

Yosef did not harbor any personal ill will towards his brothers. Quite the contrary, out of love for his brothers he wanted them to be absolved of their sin. Yosef felt that in order for the brothers to get a proper kapparah, atonement, it was necessary for them to do teshuva, repentance, by counterbalancing their sin through acting properly when faced with a similar situation. Yosef therefore created a situation in which Yaakov’s health was at risk. When faced with the prospect of having to return home without Binyamin, Yehuda says to Yosef, "And now if I come to your servant my father and the Youth is not with us…it will happen when he sees the youth is missing he will die" (Ibid. 44:30-31). Our sages relate that the brothers were prepared to use any force necessary to bring Binyamin back. Only when Yosef realized that his brothers would sacrifice their lives for Yaakov’s sake did he reveal himself to his brothers, for he now realized that they had done true teshuva.


Rabbi Ephraim Polatsek is a full time member of the Chicago Community Kollel. If you have any questions or comments about this week's Parsha Encounters please email him at



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