It’s Good to Be a Jew

After Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, the Torah tells us that the news reached Pharaoh.  Pharaoh, as well as his servants, were pleased with the news - “Vayitav be’enei Paraoh uv’enei avadav.” Why specifically was Pharaoh pleased with the arrival of Joseph’s brothers?

The Seforno suggests that as long as Joseph had no family in Egypt other than his wife and children, he viewed himself as a foreigner and not a citizen. Joseph was not personally invested in the success of the country because it was not his country. He could leave at any time, and perhaps Pharaoh even viewed him as a flight risk. With no extended family in town or deep roots, Joseph may one day want to return home. However now that Joseph’s brothers all come to town, Pharaoh believes that Joseph can establish deep roots and will view himself not as a foreigner but as a citizen who is invested in the country.

The Netziv in his Haamek Davar writes that Pharaoh thought that Joseph’s brothers were probably also wise like Joseph. Therefore, Egypt was now gaining a whole family of smart people who would help further advance the country.

The Bechor Shor takes a more elaborate approach. Previously, the Bechor Shor told us that Joseph could not reveal to anyone how he wound up in Egypt because he took an oath with his brothers (See the Bechor Shor to Parashat Vayeishev). As such, during all these years in Egypt no one knew about Joseph’s past. There was, suggests the Bechor Shor, a lot of speculation. Some people believed that Joseph was from a low class family, which is why he refused to talk about them. He was embarrassed of them. Other people believed that Joseph may have run away from a troubled past. Either way, it was potentially a black eye for both Pharaoh and Egypt at large that a person of such prominent political office had a potentially shady past.

Pharaoh would wake up every morning, so to speak, and be worried about the expose in the newspaper calling out the unfortunate truth of Joseph’s past.  However, now that Egypt meets Joseph’s brothers, Pharaoh see that the truth about his past is not that bad. On the contrary, the truth is quite good. Joseph’s brothers are prominent men. They are the descendants of Abraham and Isaac, noble men in their own right. The ancient world of Egypt thought highly of the family of Abraham.

Pharaoh could not be happier. Not only will people no longer question Joseph’s past, but they will respect and admire him for his illustrious ancestors. He is the grandson of the great Isaac and the great grandson of the famous Abraham, a great badge of honor!

It’s amazing to think that throughout Joseph’s many years in Egypt he did what he could to hide his true identity. (He acted very similar to how Esther acted in the palace of Achashverosh, as the Bechor Shor notes.) He was worried that if they knew that he was a descendant of Abraham and Isaac, they would then be able to piece together the story of his rift with his brothers and his sale into slavery. He hid the truth not because he was ashamed of who he was, but because he could not break his oath with God.

Joseph was potentially holding in his hand a “get out of jail free card” for all those years which he could have played but chose not to. He could have wowed people with his illustrious pedigree, but he did not. Rather, he put his faith in God and allowed the story to play itself out.

Further we learn from this comment of the Bechor Shor that it’s good to be a Jew. Esther hid her Jewish identity because she was worried that if Achashverosh knew that she was Jewish, then she would not be eligible to be the queen, or worse. That was not the case with Joseph.

In Egypt at that time, it was good to be a Jew.  It was a badge of honor recognized by all, including Pharaoh.