And Joseph said unto his brethren, "I am Joseph. Doth my father yet live?" And his brethren could not answer him, for they were troubled at his presence. (Gen 45:4)We are used to seeing this verse, as Joseph revealing his innermost wish - seeing his father again. However the Sforno takes this question in a completely different direction. On Joseph's question "Does my father yet live?" the Sforno comments "How could it be that my father did not die from worrying about me?"
In truth there is something a little odd with Joseph asking whether his father was alive. The brother's have commented time and time again that their father is alive (Gen 44: 20 for example.. just 10 psukim before Joseph asks) and
based most of his pitch to switch Benjamin for himself around this issue. I've always in the assumed that Joseph was asking again, either just as an emotional outburst, or perhaps because he wasn't sure the brothers were telling the truth to "Egyptian Ruler Joseph". Judah
However the Sforno has completely changed my usual reading of this statement. His interpretation would seem to suggest a darker side to Joseph. Joseph grew up as the loved and privileged child. Is it possible that hearing
go on and on about how Ya'acov loves Benjamin, Joseph is moved to reveal himself through jealousy? can it be that what "broke" Joseph's hiding his identity was his need to be reassured that he is still his father's faivorate? Judah
Perhaps another interpretation of the Sforno is possible. Harav Yoel Ben Nun speculated in his famous essay that Joseph has been living with the mistaken impression that Ya'acov was a willing partner in the sale of Joseph into slavery. Perhaps at the moment of him revealing himself, an old emotional wound is reflected in his words - why has my father never come to rescue me? was I not as loved as Benjamin is? How could my father continue his life, while I am living as a slave?
Side note: I promised to answer a myriad of questions about Joseph. Unfortunately my little daughter has been sick, and I have not had time to write the huge post I intended. I hope I will be able to accomplish it next week.