Avidan Freedman

45/929 To Be A Means and Not an End

Contrary to yesterday’s title (and the Rocky song) Yosef seems to allow the brothers the easy way out, absolving them completely of responsibility for his sale. But a careful reading of the chapter suggests that his relationship to the brothers remains complicated, and that the real transformation occurs in Yosef’s relationship with his father.

Consider this. After revealing himself, Yosef explains that the family must relocate to Egypt, because remaining in Canaan for another 5 years of famine means certain poverty. What was Yosef’s plan before Yehuda’s speech so moved him? Would his anger at his brothers cause him to abandon even his beloved father to such a fate? So it seems. Indeed, perhaps Yosef saw Binyamin as the only innocent party in this story. After all, it was Yaakov who sent Yosef to his brothers. Yosef must have at least considered the possibility that his father knew about, or even planned his sale.

Yehuda’s speech is the first testimony Yosef hears that Yaakov was not part of the plan, that he was devastated by Yosef’s disappearance. This revelation, more than anything else, must have been what caused Yosef’s uncontrollable flood of tears. Understanding that Yaakov had not rejected him allows Yosef to understand the events of the last 15 years in an entirely new light, to see his brothers as the means to the Divine ends of the fulfillment of his dreams, and the survival of the family.

Does this mean that the brothers are completely off the hook? No. Being reduced to the means to an end has its own price within a relationship, reflected in the subtle differences between the invitations extended by Yosef and Pharoah. As opposed to Pharaoh, who invites all the brothers, a careful reading reveals that Yosef’s invitation  is really concerned with Yaakov’s fate. The brothers are included only insofar as they are Yaakov’s sons. In Yosef’s eyes, the brothers are not actors significant in their own right, but merely the means to continue their father’s legacy. Their choice to be a means rather than an end unto themselves remains with them.


My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? Learn more at


About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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