After years of separation, two brothers are finally reunited, falling on each others’ necks and weeping.
Yes, you did read about this recently, when Jacob and Esau reconciled in parasha Vayishlach, only a few weeks ago. Jacob had run away when he tricked Esau out of the first son’s blessing, and Esau threatened to kill him. Twenty years went by, during which time Jacob married (twice) had 13 children, and did quite well for himself. After a night alone before seeing each other again, struggling with an angel, Jacob met Esau on the field, as if for battle. Jacob bowed low to his brother, and Esau ran to Jacob and embraced him, kissed his neck, and wept.
In this week’s parasha, Joseph has also been separated from his brothers for twenty years, starting from when the brothers sold Joseph as a slave….instead of killing him. They lied to their father about Joseph’s fate, however. Joseph ended up in Egypt, at first imprisoned, and then as the most trusted advisor to the Pharaoh. During the drought foretold by Pharaoh’s dreams, which Joseph correctly interpreted, the remaining sons of Jacob came to Egypt in search of food. After going back and forth, framing his younger brother Benjamin for a “stolen” cup, and keeping his identity hidden, Joseph finally revealed who he was. “Joseph could not bear anyone standing near him, and called out, “Take everyone away from me! So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” (Gen 44:1)
And then, he went to his little brother Benjamin, the only full brother he had among all his siblings, the one whose birth coincided with their mother’s death, ” he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept and Benjamin wept on his neck.” (Ber 44:14)
Two sets of brothers, weeping on each other’s necks, bridging a gap of years and old hurt feelings. But a careful read suggests a difference. In the case of Jacob and Esau, the encounter seems more one-sided; Esau “fell on his neck and he kissed him, and they wept.” (Gen 33:4) Esau had wanted to kill Jacob because he cheated him. Joseph may have been an annoying, self-centered little brother who kept talking about his own dreams, but he didn’t cheat or deceive his brothers. They were the ones who plotted against him. Jacob probably felt more relief than actual love when Esau embraced him; they never saw each other again until their father died. With Joseph and his brothers, though he was the one whose life was in danger, he always hoped to find his family again. We don’t get that sense from Jacob at all. When Joseph told the brothers who he was, his first thoughts were of his father, and his brothers’ welfare. He immediately made arrangements to bring the family to Egypt, and made sure they were taken care of.
Joseph knew what it was like to be a target of his brothers’ hate. Benjamin had been unjustly accused and Joseph saw that his brothers protected him, speaking of the injustice to the powerful vizier, not knowing it was their brother.) Joseph and Benjamin sought each other out at just that moment of revelation, could hold each other, and each weep with the other for the return of their family unity, in a way that Jacob and Esau never attained.