In Parshat Vayeshev, right after Yaakov was presented with Yosef’s bloody coat we read (Breisheet 37:34-35): “Yaakov tore his robes and placed sackcloth on his loins. He mourned for his son for many days. All his sons and daughters rose to console him (Yaakov), but he refused to be consoled. He said, ‘I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.’ His father wept for him.”
According to Rashi, “His father” refers to Yitzchak who cried because of Yaakov’s anguish, but did not mourn for he knew that Yosef was alive.
In Rashi’s comment on Breisheet 37:33, Yitzchak thought to himself: “How can I reveal the fact that Yosef is alive when God does not want to reveal it to Yaakov?”
Sforno states that Yitzchak cried because Yaakov took on an extended period of mourning and would not have the Shechina, Divine Presence rest upon him during that time.
How do we know that Yitzchak was still alive at the time that Yosef was sold? We just read at the end of last week’s parsha, Vayishlach (Breisheet 35:28-29) that Yitzchak died: “The days of the life of Yitzchak were one hundred and eighty years. Yitzchak expired and died and was gathered to his people being old and full of days and his sons Esav and Yaakov buried him.”
Rashi points out that this is a case of “Ein Mukdam U’Meuchar BaTorah”, there is no absolute chronological order in the Torah. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz explains that the narratives in the Torah need not be interpreted as having taken place in the exact order that they are related.
The sale of Yosef actually took place twelve years before Yitzchak passed away.
Here are Rashi’s calculations:
When Yaakov was born, Yitzchak was 60 years old. Yitzchak died at the age of 180 when Yaakov was 120.
Yosef was sold at the age of 17 and Yaakov was 108 at the time.
How do we calculate Yaakov’s age?
Yaakov was 63 when he was blessed before leaving his parents home. He then hid for 14 years at the house of Ever. He was 77 when he got to Lavan’s house. He then worked 14 years for Leah and Rachel. At the end of the 14th year, Yosef was born. Yaakov was 91 at the time of Yosef’s birth and therefore 108 when Yosef was sold.
It seems that the Torah wanted to put closure on Yitzchak’s life story before it began to describe the lives of Yaakov’s children in the Land of Israel. The same was true for Avraham whose death was listed at the end of Parshat Chayei Sarah yet he only really passed away in Parshat Toldot when Yaakov made the lentil stew. There are many similar examples such as when Noach’s, Terach’s and Yishmael’s deaths are listed as well.
Why was it important for Yitzchak to know that Yosef was still alive?
Yitzchak passed away ten years before Yaakov was reunited with Yosef and he therefore would not have a chance to see Yosef again. However, at least he would have the peace of mind to spend the last years of his life knowing that everything would end up working out.
It must have been a huge burden for Yitzchak to know that Yosef was still alive yet not be able to say anything to his son. One thing that we learn from Yitzchak is that when God tells you a secret, you keep it confidential.