It seems obvious to us in hindsight that Joseph's brothers' actions towards Joseph hurt Yaakov even more than Joseph. We see that Yaakov suffered heavily from his perceived loss. Yet, curiously, there seems to be a dynamic that was lost on most of the commentaries which I've seen so far. In this scenario, the brother's attack on Joseph was aimed directly at Ya'akov. How so?
Joseph diligently traveled in order to find his brothers, even though they hated him. Why did he risk his own safety? Seemingly, he felt that Yaakov's instructions compelled him.
This takes on several aspects. Joseph was fulfilling Kibbud Av and was probably relying on the principle, "sh'luchei Mitzvah einan nizaqin". Yaakov and Joseph expected Joseph to survive meeting up with his brothers unscathed since he was acting as Yaakov's agent. Later, however, Yaakov thought that Joseph was killed.
Let's illustrate some plausible, contrasting scenarios
Let's say that Joseph had actually ventured to visit his brothers on his own accord. Add Joseph's tattling nature onto that. It was probable that he would have come running to his Father to tell on his brothers. The brothers might have felt provoked into manhandling Joseph if they saw him as a threat.
Then, what if Joseph's brothers had "asked first and shot later"?
What if one brother had asked, "Joseph what are YOU doing here?"
Joseph would have answered, "Dad, sent me, otherwise I would be minding my own business."
It's possible that in this case, out of respect for Yaakov, Joseph's brothers might not have troubled him.
In the parsha, Joseph is an agent of Yaakov. His brothers ignore this. So, now we see that ten of Yaakov's sons have:
- Acted against Joseph and their own father's appointed agent!
- Since they neglected to discern how Joseph came to find them, they probably took it the wrong way.
Let's see. Later on, Yaakov grows mistrustful - even paranoid? - about sending Benjamin. Where is his bitachon? Joseph was thought dead through serving his sh'lichut, Yaakov had, unfortunately, "learned" to lose his trust!
Since Joseph did thrive, he was not really "Nizzaq"! (Well, he did suffer as a slave but we digress...). Yaakov might have felt differently had he known that Joseph was just missing, and not seriously harmed. He might have had faith that Joseph was really OK, and that he, Yaakov, was merely punished through losing Joseph's company. He might have understood this as simple "middah k'neged middah" for having left his own father, Yitzhak!
He might have suffered but not to the point of "Vaymo'ein l'hitnachem". He might have been sad, but not depressed.
Tangentially we see these dynamics in two of his sons' reactions.
Reuben just wishes to reunite Joseph and Yaakov. He is concerned about his father, not his brother.
Judah, who seemed to have some mercy for Joseph as his brother, doesn't seem to care about Yaakov's feelings.
Reuben's and Judah's responses deal separately with the two dynamics.