After Yaakov was buried towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Vayechi, the conclusion of the Book of Breishis, the Torah relates, “Yosef’s brothers realized their father was dead and they said, ‘Perhaps Yosef will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us for all the evil that we did to him.’ So they instructed that Yosef be told, ‘Your father gave orders before his death, saying: Thus shall you say to Yosef: “O please kindly forgive the flagrant offense of the servants of your father’s G-D.”‘ And Yosef wept when they spoke to him” (Breishis 50:15-17).
The last Medrish Tanchuma in the Book of Breishis concludes by explaining what exactly the brothers saw that informed them that their father had passed away. Didn’t they just bury him? “What did they see now to make them afraid? Rather they saw that when they were coming back from burying their father, they saw that Yosef went to make a blessing at the pit his brothers threw him in, just as any person is obligated in making a blessing at the place a miracle was performed for him by saying, ‘Blessed is Hashem who did a miracle for me at this place’. When [the brothers] saw this, they said that now that our father is dead Yosef will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us for all the evil that we did him.’ So they instructed that Yosef be told, ‘Your father gave orders etc.’ We searched and could find that Yaakov actually made this command. Rather, come and see how great the power of peace is, for Hashem wrote in His Torah these words for the sake of peace.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that the brothers suspected that Yosef might be harboring hatred in his heart for what they did to him many years before, and was waiting until their father died to take revenge on them.So they rightfully lied for the sake of peace, to
The Full Commentary of the Tur on the Torah, after quoting a part of this medrish, explains what the brothers meant about Yosef nursing hatred in his heart, “meaning, if only Yosef will nurse the hatred in his heart and not take any action; and if he wants to take any action against us and punish us for what we did he should look at the results, that we caused him to become king (viceroy) over Egypt through selling him.” The Tur then explains why Yosef cried, which was because “it sounded like Yaakov was suspicious of him [that he would take revenge]. From here we see that Yosef never told Yaakov about his sale, for if Yaakov
Yaakov and his family had been living in Egypt with Yosef taking care of them for 17 years.
, Yosef was overjoyed after he saw that his brothers completely regretted what they had done and he revealed himself to them. Now, after their father’s death it has been about 39 years since he had been sold by his brothers. Besides the fact that Yosef is known to be uniquely righteous, i.e. he is called Yosef HaTzadik, if that is the case, it has been so long and it seems he had no hatred in his heart, certainly none that would potentially come to fruition through exacting punishment on his brothers, then why did the brothers suspect him after their father’s burial, to the point that they lied for the sake of peace and the Torah even agrees that it was the right thing they did?
It would seem that the potential threat of hatred lurking in anyone’s heart is so complex and dangerous that even for the greatest of the righteous there is a rightful concern that it might be lurking there and taken into action. So proper precautions are allowed to be taken to protect oneself from potential revenge based on hatred, to the extent that one is allowed to lie for the sake of peace, and to quell hatred.
Because in the brothers eyes this threat was potentially there, then Hashem attests that they took proper precautions to protect themselves even though the reality was Yosef had already completely forgiven them and was not harboring one ounce of hatred in his heart.