Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell

In this week’s parsha, Vayigash, Jacob reunites with his son Joseph after 22 years. But one important question just doesn’t seem to be asked…

What happened?

It does seem to be a reasonable question for Jacob to ask his favorite son, who disappeared from his life when his other sons brought home Joseph’s special coat covered in blood.

There are hints in the verses that Jacob believes his son to be alive. Commentators say that the pain that Jacob felt over Joseph’s death never diminished – which normally happens when a loved one dies – which hinted to Jacob that Joseph was still alive. There is also a hint from the commentator Rashi that Jacob suspected that his sons killed or sold Joseph, which is why he was hesitant to give them Benjamin.

Joseph could also have volunteered the information to his father: “Dad, my brother’s sold me to slave traders. I had to work for several years as a slave, and then I was thrown in jail…” But he didn’t say this.

The stories about our forefathers are not in the Torah to just be amusing. They are there for us to learn proper behavior.

One might think in this case of Joseph and Jacob that the misdeeds of Jacob’s 10 sons should be revealed. But they were never spoken out. And we should learn from this that not everything needs to be said or known.

I heard an extension of this from my Rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Montrose: Are two siblings fighting without a parent’s knowledge? What will happen if the parent is told? A parent is not always able to make peace between children, and the knowledge that siblings are fighting only makes the situation worse for the parent (a typical parent will either have to take sides, or resign himself to the fact that his children are fighting without cause).

Similarly, if a neighbor sees a child doing something wrong, should they report this to the parent? Maybe. But is it sure that something positive will come out of the tattling? Will the child learn to improve his behavior? Will the parent specifically be able to help? If not, perhaps it is best for the neighbor to be quiet.

Joseph kept quiet. He did not tell his father what the brothers did to him – or even any of the troubles he went through. Jacob didn’t put his son in a difficult position and request, “So tell me everything that happened…” In the end, Joseph and his brothers had peace and after 210 years of slavery, their descendants were able to become the Jewish Nation.

So too in our lives, let us not insist on knowing everything or saying over everything about the private misfortunes of others.

Sometimes things are best left unsaid.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply