The Bible Says What? ‘Joseph’s brothers did nothing wrong’

The Bible Says What? ‘Joseph’s brothers did nothing wrong’

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner takes an issue from the Torah and applies a progressive Jewish response

This week in our synagogues we see the famous story of Joseph reach its dramatic climax. With the tables turned and his brothers at his mercy in Egypt, Joseph unveils himself and lets them know who he really is.

In a scene of great emotion all is forgiven between them, and Joseph invites his whole family to come to Egypt so he can ensure they have all they need.

In all of this joy, it is easy to lose sight of one part of Joseph’s speech. His brothers had, in their jealousy, sold him into the bondage that saw him carted off to Egypt.

However, Joseph waves all of this away, saying: “It wasn’t you who sold me to Egypt. It was God who did it”.

Just because this is a happy ending, did the brothers really not do anything wrong? If you do something bad, but it all works out in the end, is it not ridiculous to say you were just doing God’s work?

The key factor here is in what the brothers have to say for themselves – nothing. They are totally silent, stunned, from the moment Joseph reveals himself.

Joseph is demonstrating the most remarkable level of forgiveness
imaginable in relieving the brothers of their wrongdoing, but they are
all acutely aware of the damage they did.

Joseph is aware too – and because he recognises how the brothers feel, he goes as far as he can to relieve their guilt.

There is nothing for them to do, but be humble in the face of Joseph’s incredible willingness to excuse them.

The lesson of the story is not that they did nothing wrong – it is Joseph’s lesson of how to forgive even the worst actions of others and the brothers’ lesson of humility when confronted with their own sins.


  •  Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner is Senior Rabbi of Reform Judaism  


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