Dec 24th, 2010 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
I suspect that the Sages were actually critical of Joseph’s conviction that he was free of jealousy: “And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation.” (Exodus 1:6) Rabbi Chama bar Chaninah said, “Why did Joseph die before his brothers? Because he acted with an air of greatness.”
Joseph was the viceroy of Egypt and his position demanded that he act with a certain air of authority. He whole-heartedly forgave his brothers, and did all he could to save and support his family. Where and when did he lord over his brothers?
Imagine that Joseph was not the first of the brothers to die, but the last. He certainly had the power to bury them in Israel. The Egyptians were only interested in keeping Joseph’s remains. He would have carried his brothers’ remains to Israel, knowing full well that he would not be granted that privilege until the Jews would be redeemed from Egypt. Would he have experienced envy of his brothers being buried in Israel while he was stuck in Egypt even after death?
Perhaps Joseph died first so that no one in the family would be buried in Israel and he would not experience the misery of envy after all he had suffered at its hands. Perhaps Joseph died first so that he would know that even he would not have been able to handle the evil, twisted tentacles of envy.
He was convinced that he could never be infected, and yet, he learns from his early death, that he was vulnerable to infection. He could no longer ‘lord it” over his brothers that he was better equipped to handle envy.
The Sages see Joseph as learning a powerful lesson about himself as he approached death. He must have wondered why he, the second youngest, would predecease his sibling. He may have even figured out that God was teaching him, that there was already a tiny infection in his heart; he was convinced that he was invulnerable to envy and he learned, or at the very least, suspected, that perhaps he was not.
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