This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi (Gen. 47:28-50:26) concludes the book of Genesis. Jacob, knowing that he will soon die, gives a blessing to each of his sons, and to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manassah. He gives his sons instructions to take his body out of Egypt and bury it in the cave of Machpelah in Canaan, where his parents and grandparents and his wife Leah (but not Rachel) are buried.
After his death, his sons comply with his wishes. After they have returned to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers begin to worry. Now that their father is dead, they wonder if Joseph will finally take revenge upon them for the way they treated him so many years ago. So they tell Joseph that, before he died, Jacob had told them “Say this to Joseph: Forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, though they inflicted harm upon you”. It is a most unlikely story. First of all, Joseph and his brothers had all tacitly conspired to be sure that Jacob did not know what they had done to Joseph. Secondly, why would Jacob say such a thing to his other sons, rather than to Joseph directly? But Joseph does not contradict them. Instead, he sees their fear and comforts them. He says, “Am I in place of God? You intended harm but God intended it for good…have no fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus did he comfort them and speak straight to their hearts (Gen. 50:21).
Joseph understands what his brothers fear and he addresses it directly. He states that they meant to harm him. He tells them that he can’t and won’t judge them, and he assures them that he will continue to care for them, and for their children. He doesn’t sugarcoat things or sweep them under the rug. His acknowledgement of the truth, speaking straight to their hearts, is indeed true comfort.