The Story of Joseph

The famous biblical dreamer.

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Reunion and Death

The famine that Joseph predicted ultimately brings the sons of Jacob to Egypt. With no other options, and hearing of excess grain in the neighboring country, Jacob's sons make a series of trips down to Egypt. Upon discovering his brothers some 20 years after selling him into slavery, Joseph conceals his identity and tests his family, locking up his brother Simeon until the rest of the brothers return with Benjamin (42:33-34).

Jacob is reluctant to send Benjamin--his last child of Rachel--but he ultimately relents. Only upon seeing Benjamin does Joseph reveal himself to his brothers, grant them forgiveness, and bring the entire family down to Egypt.

Joseph dies in Egypt at the age of 110. Before dying, Joseph makes his children promise that when the Israelites eventually leave Egypt, they will take his remains with them. In the story of the Exodus (13:19), Moses does just that, carrying Joseph's bones on the way to Israel.

Joseph the Righteous?

Jewish commentaries, both traditional and modern, generally view Joseph as a complex character who was ultimately a righteous person. Though some commentators such as Seforno acknowledge the immaturity of his actions when dealing with his brothers in his youth, still Joseph is largely regarded as an admirable figure for maintaining his Israelite identity in spite of his 20-year separation from his family. Tradition notably refers to Joseph as a tzadik (righteous person) and several commentators point to Joseph’s naming of his sons in Hebrew as a premiere example of his dedication.

Even with Joseph’s more questionable actions, like not contacting his family once he became viceroy of Egypt, or testing his brothers by accusing them of being spies, the commentators refer us back to Joseph’s adherence to the messages of his dreams. Both Rashi and Nahmanides validate Joseph’s actions by positing that he knew the importance of fulfilling those prophecies. For these commentators, the ends of fulfilling God’s will justified the means of Joseph’s actions. 

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Elana Roth

Elana Roth is a graduate of Barnard College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she earned degrees in English Literature and Bible. She currently works as a literary agent in New York City.