So, they instructed that Yosef be told, “Your father gave orders before his death, saying: ‘… kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers…’” And Yosef wept when they spoke to him. (Beresheet 50:16, 17)
Yaakov Avinu requested that he should become weak and ill before his death so that he could put his affairs in order before departing this world. In fact, he was the first one to suffer the ills of old age. Word was sent via Ephraim to Yosef that his father Yaakov was ill. It is surprising that after yearning for his father over 20 years, a monarch would not settle his parent nearby to allow for regular visits. He had the power to instruct all the details of his family’s resettlement in Egypt and yet he put them far from him in Goshen.
Yosef’s son Ephraim would learn Torah with Yaakov all week, and every Friday Yosef would review with his son all that the young man learned from his holy grandfather. Our Sages explain that Yosef feared that if he spent time with his father, eventually Yaakov would inquire as to the events of his disappearance and that would cast a bad light on his brothers. Yaakov might even curse them and bring great harm to his siblings. Therefore, he chose to use his royal power not to enjoy the sweet Torah of his father but rather to subdue his desires for the benefit of the brothers. One who can exercise restraint at great cost to oneself demonstrates admirable character.
After the passing of his father, Yosef again showed great restraint in the face of personal preference. The entourage that accompanied Yaakov to his resting place in Me’arat Hamachpelah returned to Egypt. The passuk then says, “Yosef’s brothers saw that their father was dead” (Beresheet 50:15). They had already buried him! What did they see now? They perceived that the attitude of Yosef towards them had changed. He no longer invited them to eat with him in his palace, and so they feared reprisals. Yosef felt that when Yaakov was alive, his father sat him at the head of the table. Now, as the ruler, he would also have to sit at the head of the table but he felt that might upset Reuven and Yehudah, who had rights of priority over him in the family lineage. And so he chose to live a lonely existence without the company of his family rather than hurt the feelings of his brothers.
When the Shevatim related, “Your father gave orders before his death, saying: ‘…kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers…’” Yosef broke down and wept. This should have been enough to indicate that he had no intention of reprisals. Yet Yosef continued to console them with his words and assure them that no harm would befall them. In fact, the Midrash reveals that he thanked them, saying, “Until you came there was much talk and gossip in Egypt, saying I was a slave-made-prince — but upon your arrival you affirmed my royal lineage.”
How often people place personal benefit ahead of the concern for the feelings of others. To exercise restraint in the face of personal loss is difficult, but it demonstrates strength of character towards which all must strive. May Hashem help us all build the power to “Hold it!”