Parashat VaYigash begins with the well-known story of Yosef revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt. After Yosef describes how he was elevated to such glory in Egypt, he sends the brothers back to Canaan in order to pack up the family belongings and come to Egypt with Yaakov and his family, where they can wait out the famine in the lap of luxury in Goshen. When the time comes for the brothers to leave, Yosef gives his brothers one piece of seemingly random advice: “VaYomer Aleihem Al Tirgezu BaDarech,” “He said to them, ‘Do not quarrel on the way’” (BeReishit 45:24).
This piece of advice appears to be out of place; why does Yosef tell his brothers not to quarrel instead of imparting more practical ideas for the long journey? Additionally, why does Yosef admonish the brothers at the very instant that they leave, and not while he tells the brothers earlier in the Perek how their selling of Yosef and everything that happened to him afterwards was part of God’s plan?
Rashi (ad. loc. s.v Al Tirgezu BaDarech) explains that the simple meaning of the Pasuk is that Yosef is worried that the brothers will argue over who was to blame for Yosef's sale. While this explains what the brothers could possibly argue about, it still doesn't account for the unusual timing of the advice; again, why doesn’t Yosef tell his brothers this earlier, during his big reconciliation speech, in which he had been talking to the brothers about that same topic, the sale of Yosef!
Rashbam is clearly also bothered by these questions, and he therefore writes that Yosef is telling the brothers not to be afraid of bandits on the road, because “Shalom Li MiKol Tzad,” “Peace surrounds me on all sides” (Rashbam ad. loc. s.v. Al Tirgezu). While this explanation seems to solve the curiosity surrounding the timing of the advice, as advice about traveling would be relevant right when they are going on the road, it in fact gives rise to a bigger question. When describing why the brothers shouldn't be afraid of the bandits, Rashbam says that there is peace all around Yosef. Yet the wording he uses is interesting— “Peace surrounds me on all sides,” implying that the peace that exists surrounds only Yosef and apparently has nothing to do with his position within the context of the Egyptian government. Rather, it seems, according to the Rashbam’s wording, that it is a personal peace, a peace that exists only for Yosef.
To understand what Rashbam means when he explains that Yosef tells his brothers “Shalom Li,” it is necessary to go to back to the beginnings of Yosef’s story. In the beginning of Parashat VaYeishev (37:12-13), Yosef’s brothers go to Shechem to tend to Yaakov’s sheep. Upon hearing this, Yaakov decides to send Yosef to find out what they are doing. The Netziv (Ha’amek Davar 37:12 s.v. VeAmar Lechah VeEshlachacha Aleihem) asks why Yaakov has to send Yosef to ascertain the status of his children, as he could have sent a servant. The Netziv answers that the fiasco where Shimon and Levi massacred the inhabitants of Shechem made Shechem a dangerous place for anyone associated with Yaakov. If Yaakov had sent a servant, the servant would have certainly been attacked. However, Yaakov knew that if he sent Yosef, he would not have to worry about his safety, as he was certain that Yosef’s righteousness was such that Hashem would protect him and no one would touch him.
This idea is key to understanding Rashbam’s explanation of what Yosef means when he says “Al Tirgezu BaDarech” to his brothers. Yosef clearly has a special purpose in life and a special connection with God. Even the brothers could understand that this was the case, as after all, no one survives being thrown in a pit and ends up second in command of the most powerful country on the face of the planet through pure determination or talent. Therefore, when Yosef reveals himself to the brothers and tells them that what happened to him wasn't their fault, that it was all part of God’s plan to save Yaakov and family from a famine, the brothers understand it, as God clearly is playing a role in Yosef life. Yet what they did not yet truly understand, neither here in Parashat VaYigash nor back in Parashat VaYeishev when they threw him into the pit, is that Yosef is not just a pawn in the larger game. Rather, he is indeed special, and just as in Shechem, God is protecting him because of how righteous he is.
With this in mind, we can understand the Rashbam, and in turn, what Yosef truly means when he says Al Tirgezu. Rashbam explains that Yosef says “Shalom Li” because the peace that surrounds Yosef is indeed specific to him. As a result of the level of righteousness he has attained, Hashem protects him and he is surrounded by peace. Yosef is telling the brothers, according to this understanding of Rashbam, that they need not fear bandits, because God’s personal protection of Yosef will extend to the brothers for this trip. Once we understand this, the timing and the deeper meaning of Yosef’s statement begin to make more sense. Yosef says Al Tirgezu right before they leave because it is a relevant piece of travel advice. However, Yosef also chooses to say Al Tirgezu at this point for a separate reason: The fact that Yosef is protected due to his own status is something that the brothers never understood, and it was this lack of understanding that led them in Parashat VaYeishev to throw Yosef into a pit. Yosef tells the brothers specifically at this point that he is and was protected by Hashem due to his righteousness because if the brothers go back to Yaakov without understanding the truth about Yosef’s innate qualities and the valid reason Yaakov had for favoring Yosef, Yosef’s message and the entire journey of the brothers to Egypt would be for naught. Thus in saying the three innocuous words “Al Tirgezu BaDarech,” Yosef in a way reveals his true self to the brothers, knowing that when the brothers go back home to face their father, they will have a broader understanding of the facts of the entire story of Yosef’s life.
This approach also helps explain Rashi’s approach to the Pasuk. Why is Yosef so worried that the brothers will get into an argument regarding blame for the whole saga? He knows that giving the brothers the inside scoop and an enriched perspective will upset them, as they will finally realize that they never fully understood the Yaakov-Yosef dynamic and Yosef’s true essence. As a result, they will ask themselves how it was possible that they could miss something so clear, and eventually, they may start blaming each other for what happened. Therefore, as Yosef tells the brothers the truth about himself right before they leave, Yosef also tells them not to relive the past by trying to find the one at fault for the sale of Yosef.