After Yaakov died and was brought back to the Promised Land for burial, the family returned to Egypt. The Torah then says: וַיִּרְאוּ אֲחֵי יוֹסֵף כִּי מֵת אֲבִיהֶם, “Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died…”. (Gen. 50,15) Were Yosef’s brothers the only ones who realized that their father had died? Did not Yosef also know?
If we recall the difference in the lives of Yosef and his brothers we may understand this verse. The brothers had always lived in the presence of their father. There was never a time when they were separated. Now that their father was gone it was difficult for them to keep his memory alive.
Yosef, on the other hand had only been in the presence of his father thirty four years. He was sold into slavery when he was seventeen and Yaakov lived in Egypt seventeen years. All the years that Yosef was separated from his father he kept his father alive in his memory and never forgot his upbringing and his father’s teachings.
Now that his father was gone, Yosef was able to live up to the saying of Chazal: יעקב אבינו לא מת, “our father Yaakov did not die”. (Tan. 5b) As long as the memory of Yaakov was still important for his children, it is as if he was still alive. Most of his life, Yosef had to keep the memory of his father with him.