JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
Rabbi Yisroel Chait
In analyzing Joseph's relationship with his brothers we must ask several
salient questions which will help shed light on the entire sequence of events
recited in the Torah.
We must first analyze the source of the brothers hatred of Joseph. Joseph
was their fathers favorite since he was born the son of his old age. However,
Joseph reinforced their resentment by telling his brothers the content of
two dreams that he had. This fact indicated his arrogant nature. The dreams
were obviously divinely inspired. However, we must understand why there
were two dreams. Furthermore, the brothers response to each dream was different.
The first dream was concerning the bundles of wheat. The brothers response
to this dream was continued hatred. The second dream concerning the constellations
evoked a different response. The brothers were jealous and Jacob heeded
this dream. The difference between the dreams can help us appreciate the
different responses. The first dream reflected that Joseph would rule them
physically. The bundles of wheat represent physical sustenance. Thus the
brothers hated him even more for they resented that they would be physically
subservient. However, the second dream reflected that Joseph would be the
mentor, that he would lead them spiritually as well. The constellations
represent spirituality. This evoked a response of jealousy. However, Jacob
heeded the dream because he recognized Joseph's potential. We must appreciate
that the brothers envy was based upon the fact that Jacob had chosen Joseph
as the one who would be the leader and carry forward the tradition. The
brothers did not act upon mere jealousy. They determined based upon Joseph's
vanity and narcissism that he was not deserving of such an honor. He constantly
told their father lashon hara, derogetory talk concerning them. His revealing
to them his dreams reinforced their opinion that he was arrogant and unworthy.
It reinforced their image of his vanity. Jacob, however, realized Joseph's
intellectual abilities and conviction and realized in time he would mature
and mold his character as a wise man. As time passed Jacob's assessment
of Joseph's abilities and nature was proven accurate.
The brothers sinned by misjudging the situation and not trusting their
father. The dreams merely bolstered the resentment that they had for Joseph.
As a result they sinned by allowing their emotions to control their actions
and shape their opinion. They committed an injustice against their brother
by selling him into slavery. They did not realize, because of his arrogance
and vanity, that he was capable of change. This was the background that
set the stage for Joseph's encounter with his brothers some thirteen years
At the outset, an important footnote throughout the entire ordeal must
be examined. The brothers during their entire encounter with Joseph did
not recognize him, nor suspect that the Viceroy could be Joseph, despite
their intimate knowledge of him. This incongruity could be explained because
of the very nature of their sin. They miscalculated Joseph's potential for
greatness. They viewed him as a vain and arrogant person. Accordingly, they
felt by selling him into slavery, it would ensure that Joseph would not
be the mentor. They felt that such an egotistical and vain person, would
succumb to the life of the physical. They thought the support and security
of his father and family was essential and without it, he would desert the
tradition. Therefore, the Medrash tells us that when they entered Egypt
they looked for Joseph in the houses of ill repute. They never imagined
nor appreciated Joseph's true intellectual conviction and ability to elevate
himself to a higher level. This essentially was their "chate",
sin. They misjudged his abilities and failed to realize that he was still
a child at the time they passed judgment, and capable of change. Therefore,
this image was still in their mind and prevented them from ever imagining
that Joseph was the Viceroy.
When analyzing the entire sequence of events commencing with the brothers
descent into Egypt, and their meeting with Joseph and his ultimate revelation
of his identity, one gets a rather puzzled picture. It leaves an impression
of a rather prolonged detached series of events without any type of logical
nexus. Furthermore, many of Joseph's actions seem petty. When he recognizes
his brothers he remembers his dreams and he responds by accusing them of
being spies. Why didn't he reveal his identity to his brothers immediately?
How come Joseph continues to place his brothers through a series of ordeals.
The most encompassing question and perhaps the most disturbing, is once
Joseph had the ability why didn't he communicate with his father and tell
him of his well-being. Surely he would have spared Jacob undue suffering.
In order to start to appreciate the import of these questions, we must
assert one logical proposition. Joseph's entire intentions were to benefit
his brothers by affording them the opportunity to do teshuva, repentance.
All the events can be explained by keeping this motif in mind when analyzing
each event. Joseph used his ingenuity throughout the entire sequence and
did not arouse suspicions in order to enable the events to develop in a
manner that would facilitate their ability to do teshuva gemura, complete
Joseph foresaw that his brothers would be coerced to come to Egypt to
buy provisions because of the famine. As a result, he viewed the situation
as the opportune time to allow his brothers to repent. He was hoping that
they would search for him and rectify the situation. Upon their first meeting
with Joseph he acted as a stranger to them. The Torah tell us that Joseph
remembered the dreams and accused them of being spies. Joseph was not vengeful.
He was aware that the prophecy would become true and that this presented
an opportunity to allow his brothers to change and ultimately acknowledge
him as the mentor. Paragraph 42 verse 3 states "And the ten brothers
of Joseph went down to Egypt to buy provisions." Rashi comments that
they are referred to as Joseph's brothers because they regretted their actions
and were determined to buy Joseph's freedom, at whatever price. Thus they
had started on the path of repentance. In fact, they entered Egypt from
ten separate entrances. This would facilitate their secondary mission of
searching for Joseph and obtaining his freedom. However, his accusation
of their being spies had to have a basis in order to dispel any suspicions.
He knew that they entered from different entrances in order to search for
him. He thus concluded that they felt guilty and realized that this presented
an opportunity for him to question them. As a result of their guilt they
tried to impress Joseph by telling him that they were searching for their
brother. They sought to impress him with their loyalty. Thus he asked them,
if your brother couldn't be bought would you fight for him. They responded
in the affirmative. Joseph had thereby set a basis for his accusations.
They affirmed that they would break the law if necessary. Therefore, his
claim that they were spies was valid.
Joseph thereby sought the imprisonment of Shimon for two reasons. He
sought to have Benjamin brought to Egypt. He also desired to isolate one
of the brothers. In order for it to be a complete repentance, the same situation
must arise and the person must demonstrate that he has changed by not falling
victim to the same trappings of the sin. Therefore, Joseph sought to create
similar circumstances to afford them the opportunity of teshuva gemura.
This required that they must face their father and advise him of their need
to bring Benjamin to Egypt. They had to countenance their fathers' despair
and take responsibility for Benjamin's well being.
Upon being presented with these circumstances the brothers stated that
this sad state of events had befallen them because of their unjust actions
against Joseph. Joseph heard their misgivings and turned from them and cried.
Rashi comments that he cried because he heard that they had charatta, they
regretted their actions. It was not a mere emotional response. He cried
because he realized that one of the components of teshuva was present. They
had regrets over their past actions. The Torah specifically tells us that
they were upset because they did not have mercy upon their brother when
he cried to them. They were callous to his pleas for sympathy. However,
he could not reveal himself as yet, because he wanted to ensure that they
would be completely forgiven and elevate themselves to a higher level of
conduct. This could only be done after his entire plan had unfolded.
The Torah also affords us an interesting insight into the process of
repentance. Genesis Chapter 42 Verse 22 states "And Rueben answered
them saying , Did I not speak unto you saying do not sin against the child
and you would not hear, and also behold his blood is required." Rueben's
statement seems to be a response to a question. However, no question was
asked. It follows the verse whereby the brothers acknowledge their guilt
for not responding to Joseph's pleas for mercy. It therefore appears that
since Rueben was the eldest, the brothers were attempting to shift much
of the blame onto Rueben. However, Rueben's response was not merely defensive.
Repentance demands that the wrong doer properly acknowledge his guilt. If
one denies his culpability, his is incapable of doing teshuva and to change
his character. The Torah emphasizes this point by phrasing Rueben's response
as an answer. The brothers had to acknowledge their guilt if repentance
was to be effective.
Upon their return home, he secretly returned the money to them because
he intended to keep them off guard. They suspected that he would accuse
them of stealing the money. However, when they returned with Benjamin, he
made no such accusation, but on the contrary he befriended them. This allowed
him to place the cup in Benjamin's sack without raising suspicions. They
totally discounted any doubts they had because he did not question the earlier
incident. Psychologically he allayed any fears that they may have possessed.
Therefore, on their return, he ate and drank with them and they feasted
It is interesting to note that since Joseph was sold into slavery, he
did not drink wine. He missed their absence. Although he was ruler of a
great land and had his own children, there was still a void in his life.
He respected his brothers as wise men, as individuals with whom he shared
a common intellectual heritage. This vacuum was always felt and prevented
him from indulging in wine. This day, with his brothers present, he allowed
himself to partake.
Before sitting down to the meal he used his cup ostensibly as a tool
for divination. He sat them in order at the meal based upon their ages.
The brothers were amazed. They did not suspect magic but were in awe of
the fact that he was totally prepared for their meeting and had obtained
such detailed information about them. He used the cup because it would serve
as the perfect excuse for Benjamin's unlawful possession of the cup. Benjamin
ostensibly stole the cup to help him find his brothers whereabouts. At the
meal he desired to foster their emotions of jealousy, so he sat with Benjamin.
He again discounted their suspicions by claiming that he would sit with
Benjamin since they both did not have mothers. Joseph also favored Benjamin
by giving him portions five times greater than the other brothers. Joseph
was not merely expressing his fondness for Benjamin. He was recreating the
same situation that existed between Jacob and himself. In furtherance thereof,
he placed the goblet in Benjamin's sack. He wanted to place Benjamin in
jail in order to recreate his entire ordeal, to the greatest extent possible.
The brothers responded by ripping their garments and acknowledging that
G-d was punishing them for their sin of selling Joseph. Thereby, Judah made
an appeal on behalf of his brothers for Benjamin's freedom. He acknowledged
their guilt by selling Joseph and offered himself as a slave in Benjamin's
stead. Judah's appeal was a lengthy plea to Joseph's compassion. They had
to appeal to his mercy because they couldn't deny their guilt and say that
Joseph set them up. They also sinned against Joseph by not acting compassionately.
A complete teshuva demanded that they recognize their oversight, therefore
they were coerced into appealing to his kindness. Thus, when they offered
themselves in Benjamin's place, they demonstrated that they were at a higher
level of perfection and their repentance was complete. Joseph immediately
revealed himself unto his brothers. Upon his revelation, his primary concern
was his father Jacob's welfare. Until this point he could not inform his
father that he was still alive. To do so, would have prevented his brothers,
the progenitors of B'nai Yisroel of doing teshuva. Had he advised his father
earlier of what transpired, the brothers might have been incapable of facing
their father. They might have fled and this would have jeopardized the continued
existence of B;nai Yisroel. Accordingly, Joseph was forced into remaining
silent. However, after they did teshuva and elevated themselves to a higher
level, they were able to face their wrongdoing. Therefore, when their repentance
was complete and he was able to reveal himself, he immediately sent a message
to Jacob advising him that he was still alive. This message contained an
allusion to the last topic they were learning together. This served to comfort
Jacob, for he realized that the tradition would be carried on through Joseph,
as Jacob had envisioned.