Fears, Lies, But No Videotape
Jacob's death provokes the latent fear in Joseph's brothers that Joseph bears a grudge against them and the desire to make peace with him.
Fear of consequences often leads us to lie in order to avoid punishment, regardless of the pettiness of our act. Throwing Joseph into a pit because they were jealous of the way their father pampered him in childhood should not be considered a petty act. Yet the Rabbis justify the brothers' fabricating a lie to save themselves from Joseph's vengeance, which they indeed expect. There is no record (on video or otherwise!) that Jacob ever uttered the words or conveyed the message cited in Genesis 50:17. The Rabbis' justification is derived from their elevation of the concept of sh'lom bayit (maintaining peace within the home or family) above all.
There are other examples earlier in Genesis in which not only is a "white lie" permitted, it is in fact encouraged in order to maintain sh'lom bayit (for instance, in Genesis 18:12-15). If we are going to be God's emissaries in striving to bring peace to our wounded world, we first must make shalom, peace, the foundation of our personal lives and the basis of our relationships with others.
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.