After Joseph revealed his true identity, he freed his imprisoned brother Simeon (whom he had been holding to ensure the brothers’ return), and gave lavish gifts to all of his brothers. He then urged them to hastily return to the Land of Canaan and bring their father Jacob, along with the rest of the family, to settle in Egypt:

Hasten and go up to my father, and say to him, “So said your son, Joseph: ‘G‑d has made me a lord over all the Egyptians. Come down to me, do not tarry… You shall tell my father [of] all my honor in Egypt and all that you have seen, and you shall hasten and bring my father down here.’ ”1

Pharaoh also heard that Joseph’s brothers were in Egypt and promptly extended his hospitality:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: load up your beasts and go, enter the land of Canaan. And take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and [you will] eat the fat of the land.’ ”2

We then read that Joseph issued the wagons according to Pharaoh’s instruction and “he gave them [food] provisions for the way.”3

Having carried out Pharaoh’s order, he sent his own provisions:

And to his father he sent the following: ten he-donkeys carrying of the best of Egypt, and ten she-donkeys carrying grain, bread, and [other] food, for his father for the way.4

A Perplexing Comment

Commenting on the words, “he sent the following,” Rashi explains:

According to this amount. And what is the amount? Ten he-donkeys, etc.

What is Rashi saying and why does he feel the need to say it?

Presumably, Rashi feels that the words “the following” are superfluous. What would have been lost had the verse simply read: “And to his father he sent ten he-donkeys…” (without the words “the following”)?

But if that is the problem, how does Rashi’s comment provide an answer? How does interpreting “the following” as “this amount” solve the problem?

Moreover, what does “this amount” even mean? As opposed to what? Any ordinary reader who saw the words “the following” would understand that it means the amount specified immediately in the words that follow.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

One may be forgiven for thinking that this is a rather technical question relating to an obscure word in an otherwise fascinating story. But the Rebbe shows that Rashi is actually addressing a perplexing aspect of this tale.

Rashi’s main concern is not the extra couple of words (“the following”), but the much more serious question of why Joseph sent ten donkeys laden with food. As we saw earlier, both Pharaoh and Joseph repeatedly urged the brothers to return to Egypt hastily. They were given wagons, to reduce their travel time. Pharaoh encouraged them to abandon their possessions in Canaan, as packing everything up would delay their return to Egypt. It seems clear that the emphasis was on speed. Get here as quickly as possible.

Now, given that their time back home in Canaan was intended to be as short as possible, why did Joseph send so many donkeys laden with food? Surely, they had no need for all that food if they were to make a hasty return to Egypt. This leaves us terribly confused: Why did Joseph send ten donkeys fully-loaded with food on top of the generous provisions already provided by Pharaoh? This is way more food than they could possibly consume in such a short period of time!

The Feeling Behind the Food

Although Joseph’s brothers and family had no need for all that food, Joseph felt he had to at least match Pharaoh’s gift. It would not be right, Joseph reasoned, that his family would feel Pharaoh’s generosity and not his own.

The purpose was not to supply them with provisions, as these quantities were far in excess of their needs. Rather, it was designed to demonstrate Joseph’s happiness at being reunited with his family, and an indication of his commitment to their future welfare.

That is what the Torah means with the words “the following.” As Rashi notes, it means that it was “according to a specific amount.” What amount? The same amount that Pharaoh gave, namely ten. In other words, a matching gift. It is as if the verse had said, “So as not to be outshone by Pharaoh, Joseph likewise gave ten…”

10 or 11?

Now scripture does not tell us how many donkey loads of food Pharaoh sent. But we do know that he had each brother load up his beast (along with a wagon) with provisions. Since Pharaoh sent 10 loads of food, so did Joseph.

But didn’t Joseph have eleven brothers? He did, but one of those had no donkey! How is that possible? Pretty simple, as it turns out.

During their previous visit to Egypt to purchase food, Simeon was taken prisoner by Joseph as a guarantee that the brothers would return with Benjamin. Now, when the brothers returned home without Simeon, there is no reason to believe that they left his donkey in Egypt. Most likely, the brothers loaded it up with food and brought the donkey with them back to Canaan.

So, now they had eleven brothers, but only ten donkeys! As they now had wagons, that was not going to pose a problem, so Pharaoh just loaded up ten donkeys.

An Expression of Love

Here we have a simple but important lesson: Joseph sent a lavish gift to his father, even though he had no need for all the provisions. Within a short while, he would be in Egypt with Joseph where all his needs would be met with great generosity.

Nevertheless, Joseph wanted to ensure that he would feel the generosity, experience the love, and know that his beloved son Joseph was keen on honoring him. An act of kindness is not only about meeting another person’s practical needs, it also means addressing a person’s emotional, sentimental needs.

Jacob’s stomach had no use for all that food, but his heart would feel the love. Jacob’s mouth could not take in those provisions, but his feelings would be soothed by the tangible expression of affection.

When you have occasion to give, give generously. Let the receiver know that you do so with enthusiasm and a full heart.

Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 10, Parshat Vayigash II.