Fears, Lies, But No Videotape

Jacob's death provokes the latent fear in Joseph's brothers that Joseph bears a grudge against them and the desire to make peace with him.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

  • Jacob blesses his grandchildren Ephraim and Manasseh. (48:1-20)

  • Jacob's twelve sons gather around his deathbed, and each receives an evaluation and a prediction of his future. (49:1-33)

  • Joseph mourns his father's death and has Jacob embalmed. Jacob is buried in Hebron in the cave of the field of the Machpelah in the land of Canaan. (50:1-14)

  • Joseph assures his concerned brothers that he has forgiven them and promises to care for them and their families. (50:15-21)

  • Just before he dies, Joseph tells his brothers that God will return them to the Land that God promised to the patriarchs. The Children of Israel promise Joseph that they will take his bones with them when they leave Egypt. (50:22-26)

Focal Point

When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!" So they sent this message to Joseph, "Before his death your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Joseph, 'Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers, who treated you so harshly.' Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph was in tears as they spoke to him. (Genesis 50:15-17)

Your Guide

What meaning does the word "saw" have in the clause "When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead?”

Is the brothers' fear justified?

Is there evidence that Joseph did indeed act differently toward his brothers after their father died?

Why did the brothers send a message to Joseph rather than talk to him in person?

Do you believe that the message the brothers sent to Joseph was true?

Why do you think Joseph cried?

By the Way…

"What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!" (Genesis 50:15) Rabbi Levi said [that they feared this because] "Joseph no longer invited them to dine with him." Said Rabbi Tanchuma, "He meant it for the sake of heaven. Joseph said, "Father used to seat me higher than Judah, who is king, and higher than Reuben, who is the firstborn. Now it is not right that I should sit higher than them." But the brothers understood matters differently and said, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us." (B'reishit Rabbah 100:8)

"When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead." What does the text mean by "saw?" They perceived the effects of his death on Joseph. They were used to dining with Joseph and [were accustomed to] Joseph's keeping on close terms with them out of respect for his father. But as soon as Jacob died, Joseph ceased to be on close terms with them. (Rashi on Genesis 50:15, drawing from the midrash above)

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Rabbi Ira Korinow

Rabbi Ira Korinow is the spiritual leader of Temple Emanu-El, Haverhill, Mass.