Yaakov endured a lifetime of conflict and wanted to return to his ancestral land to live out his years in peace.
He was ready to hand over the mantle to Yosef as indicated when he gave him the striped tunic, otherwise known as the “coat of many colors”. This was not merely intended to be a nice gift given to a favored child but represented leadership status transferred from father to son.
Either way, one can’t help but wonder why Yaakov would show favoritism in such a blatant manner when it seems obvious that it would surely cause strife between the brothers.
Yaakov’s past might help shed light on his thought process.
Yaakov and Esav went through so much drama in efforts to establish their future positions. Even though Yaakov bought the birthright from Esav, it appears that Esav was not willing to honor the sale. When Esav returned with food for Yitzchak ready to receive the blessing and found out that it had gone to Yaakov, he let out a gut-wrenching scream. This is the reaction of someone in utter shock and dismay, which leads one to believe he still thought he was going to receive the blessing of the “bechor”, the leadership position. Rivkah understood this and schemed to secure the blessing for Yaakov. This incident led to all the upheaval in Yaakov’s life. Perhaps Yaakov was trying to spare his children this type of drama by making it clear from the outset that Yosef was to be the leader, as indicated by the tunic. Ironically, his efforts to ensure that his children avoid the pain he endured after being forced to leave home is what caused friction and Yosef’s banishment from the family.
Yaakov had hopes that his family would be united and living a tranquil existence. However, Yosef brought evil reports about the brothers, received the honored tunic, and bragged of grandiose dreams which led them to hate Yosef. Yaakov was aware that the brothers could not stand Yosef as it states they were unable to speak with him peacefully. Yet still, Yaakov sent Yosef to check on his brothers while they were shepherding in Shechem . This again begs the question, what was Yaakov thinking? It would seem like a recipe for disaster to send Yosef, who the brothers hated, with the job of reporting on them once again.
Yaakov says, go look and see “Et Shalom Achecha” the peace of your brothers. Perhaps Yaakov’s intention was that Yosef should go and see, as an onlooker, how the brothers get along. Yosef was to observe how they interact peacefully when there isn’t contention and report back with newly gained insight on how to successfully integrate. He was not supposed to be seen by the brothers but once he was spotted the brothers conspired to kill him.
Yosef learned from all these events how important it was to Yaakov’s to achieve familial unity even though he failed to bring it to fruition. This may be why Yosef did not send word to Yaakov that he was alive. He would have had to expose the egregious behavior of his brothers or surely cause more strife in the process. In either case, Yosef did not want to cause any more pain to his father.
It wasn’t until all the brothers came down to Egypt and Yosef learned of Yehuda’s devotion to Benyamin and Yaakov’s well being that he believed the family could live harmoniously together. Yosef could then reveal himself and send back word to his father that he was alive. For it was only at that moment that Yosef was able to stand before his father as the leader and unifier of the family like Yaakov had always wanted.