45:24 As he sent his brothers off on their way, he told them, “Do not be quarrelsome on the way.”
What did Yosef mean by this gentle admonition to his brothers, as he sent them back to Canaan to fetch Yaakov and their families to settle in Egypt? Is he telling them to not fear revealing the whole truth about what they did to Yosef their brother to their father Yaakov, because all that has happened was “Ki l’mich’yah shelachani Elohim lifneihem” – for it was to save life that Gd sent me here before you. (45:5) Was he telling them it was all “water under the bridge” so to speak? (For my thoughts on the teleological aspects of verse 45:5, see my previous musing for Vayigash 5772 – Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G”d Play Dice With the World.) Is he simply telling them it’s pointless to argue about who is to blame, about who is going to tell daddy what really happened?
Is he telling them not to try and avoid blame, argue among themselves, each trying to say “it was really all his idea” to avoid Yaakov’s anger? Is he telling them that he knows Yaakov well enough to know that his love for Yosef would overcome any anger with his sons for what they had done?
Is he actually giving them a private remonstration–“you got lucky this time brothers, but don’t press your luck” ?
Is it a veiled reference to what the brothers did after the rape of their sister Dinah? He may have been the youngest son when that happened-one wonders what he made of it all (and why is so clearly absent from that story. Guess he had a bigger part to play later.)
So the text sets us up to expect–something. And then the text leaves us hanging. The brief description in 45:27 that they “recounted all that Yosef had said to them” has us wondering-what did the brothers tell their father about how all this came to be. Did they confess what they did?
For Yaakov’s part-did he care what had happened? All that mattered perhaps is that Yosef was alive. He already knew his sons were trouble from the Dinah incident, from the story of Tamar, so perhaps he didn’t need to know what really happened.
So perhaps it all remained unspoken. The brothers knew what they had done. They knew they had been found out. Yaakov clearly knew they had deceived him. Did any of that matter now? As much as I hate teleological explanations, that’s what seems to fit best here.
Don’t quarrel among yourselves on the way back to Canaan. Meaning-you don’t need to say anything. All is known, yet better left unsaid.
What would be gained for Yosef to hear the confession of his sons to their wrongdoing? And Yaakov was not without sin himself. To confront him with the sins of his own sons might only serve to amplify his own guilt. Better left unsaid.
I don’t know that I am fully comfortable with this idea. After all, “don’t ask, don’t tell” wasn’t exactly a high ethical position. It’s certainly tone of the more stupid ideas ever perpetuated by the armed services and our government. Yet I have always been a believer in situational decision-making. And there clearly are times when things may be best left unsaid. Yosef knew that, and he shared that wisdom with his brothers, and luckily, to us as well, through the text of the Torah which recounts his words. Al tir’gezu. Don’t be quarrelsome. Seems good advice both in context and out of context.
Al Tir’gezu badarech. Don’t be quarrelsome on the way. Practical advice for any journey–and for all of us, at all times, always on this journey known as life. Will we ever get where we are going if we’re constantly quarreling along the way? This, perhaps, is the real key to Yosef’s advice. Let’s put it all aside and press forward. Don’t quarrel with others, don’t quarrel with yourself, and don’t quarrel with Gd. Let’s work together and help guide each other down this road which need not be so lonesome.
Nissea Tovah. Travel well.
©2016 and 2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha
Vayiggash 5775 – Rule #2
Vayiggash 5774 – We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 – Let’s Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 – Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G”d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 – He’s A-Cookin’-a-Somethin’-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 – G”d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?
Vayigash 5764-Incidental Outcomes and Alternate Histories