The passuk states Yosef tells his brothers, “I will tell Pharaoh that you have come והאנשים רעי צאן כי אנשי מקנה היו.” Onkelos translates as “and the men were shepherds of sheep, since they were men, masters of flock. Onkelos translates the words אנשי מקנה as men, master of flocks (גברי מרי גיתי). The Nefesh HaGer brings b’shem the Ramban, Yosef told Pharaoh that the brothers were shepherds of sheep, however they did not actually shepherd sheep of other people or even their own. They were wealthy and had servants and people in their household who shepherded and did work for them. Yosef specifically wanted to mention this for the honor of the brothers. The Nefesh HaGer explains, Yosef’s intent was to boost up the brothers so they shouldn’t be eligible to work for Pharaoh. They are above the caliber of working, as they have workers to do their jobs. This would cause Pharaoh to let them live in Goshen and not consider taking them as servants.
Yosef then tells the brothers to mention this to Pharaoh, as it states, “And it will be when Pharaoh calls for you, ואמרתם אנשי מקנה היו עבדיך מנעורינו ועד עתה גם אנחנו גם אבותינו בעבור תשבו בארץ גושן.” Onkelos translates this as “And you shall say, ‘Men, masters of flocks were your servants, from when we were little and until now, also us, also our father’ in order that you shall dwell in the land of Goshen.” The passuk ends “כי תועבת מצרים כל רועי צאן,” which Onkelos translates as “since the Mitzri’im distance all who shepherd sheep.” Here Yosef adds, “Aside for mentioning that you are honorable and don’t work, tell Pharaoh that your entire family only knows about pasturing sheep. This will force Pharaoh to allow you to dwell in the land of Goshen away from the Mitzri’im.” Since the Mitzri’im worship sheep, they distance all who shepherd, to be kept separated from them.
When the brothers came before Pharaoh they said, “רועה צאן עבדיך גם אנחנו גם אבותינו your servants are shepherds of sheep. לגור בארץ באנו כי אין מרעה we came to dwell in the land since there is no pasture.” The Nefesh HaGer asks, why did the brothers not mention “אנשי מקנה men, masters of flock,” as Yosef told them? The Nefesh HaGer answers, when the brothers came to Yaakov and told him what they would say to Pharaoh, he vetoed it. Yaakov said, “Be quiet, do not mention your wealth and your acquisitions before Pharaoh, do not brag or show off.” This is similar to what Yaakov said to the brothers at the beginning of the hunger, “למה תתראו why should you be seen?” Rashi explains, “Why should you show off before Bnei Yishmael and Bnei Eisav as though you are satisfied and have food?” Yaakov exemplified ענוה, humility and he told the brothers not to mention their special attributes. Instead they should just tell Pharaoh that their family pastures sheep, needs place to pasture, and want to dwell in Goshen.
May we learn the middah of humility from Yaakov and not boast about our successes.