Joseph was will­ing to be their brother, but he de­manded of them to be­have as broth­ers should

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - PARASHAT VAYIGASH SHMUEL RABI­NOWITZ The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

In last week’s To­rah por­tion, Miketz, we read about Joseph re­peat­edly ac­cus­ing his in­no­cent broth­ers of spy­ing, of steal­ing and of ly­ing. He threat­ens to enslave them and puts them in prison. The su­per­fi­cial reader might think that Joseph wants to get back at his broth­ers for what they did to him when they threw him into a pit and then sold him into slav­ery. But from this week’s por­tion of Vayigash, we learn that Joseph for­gave his broth­ers whole­heart­edly for their deeds. Joseph even com­forted them and calmed them as he un­veiled the great faith that di­rected his life:

“But now do not be sad, and let it not trou­ble you that you sold me here, for it was to pre­serve life that God sent me be­fore you… And now, you did not send me here, but God…” (Ge­n­e­sis 45:5-8).

Why, then, did Joseph abuse his broth­ers and not re­veal im­me­di­ately that he was Joseph, their brother, and that he for­gives them for what they did to him? What did Joseph hope to gain by do­ing this, and what are we to learn from it?

And what led to Joseph break­ing down and burst­ing into tears as he re­veals his iden­tity to his broth­ers?

Joseph had suf­fered ter­ri­ble in­jus­tices. His broth­ers sold him into slav­ery, which had two im­pli­ca­tions. The first is per­sonal. Nat­u­rally, Joseph was hurt, and it would make sense that he would there­fore hate his broth­ers and want to take re­venge. We would all re­late to him had he acted this way. But there is an­other, more ob­jec­tive, side to the sale of Joseph into slav­ery. The ac­tual act of sell­ing a brother is aw­ful. It is hard to de­scribe a lack of broth­er­hood so strik­ing that broth­ers are pre­pared to aban­don their sib­ling to such an evil fate.

There was a se­ri­ous prob­lem here that the broth­ers had to re­pair.

In­deed, Joseph whole­heart­edly for­gave his broth­ers, but that was only rel­e­vant to the per­sonal as­pect of the da­m­age they did to him. But even af­ter this for­give­ness, Joseph could not make up with his broth­ers be­fore as­cer­tain­ing that they had re­paired their lack of broth­er­hood. He was will­ing to be their brother, but he de­manded of them to be­have as broth­ers should.

He fab­ri­cated an en­tire sce­nario to have his broth­ers stand be­fore him with Ben­jamin. He then cre­ated a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion: he ac­cused Ben­jamin of steal­ing a gob­let and then waited to see how the other broth­ers would re­spond. Some 22 years af­ter fail­ing the test of broth­er­hood with him, he had them face an­other one. How would they re­act this time? Would they aban­don Ben­jamin to slav­ery in Egypt?

This time, they passed the test. Ju­dah ap­proached Joseph and fought for Ben­jamin’s free­dom. He wants him freed at any price, even the high­est, and ex­pressed will­ing­ness to be en­slaved in­stead of Ben­jamin! Only now could Joseph let his feel­ings show, and he burst into tears as he con­fessed to his stunned broth­ers, “I am Joseph.”

Joseph could have re­vealed his iden­tity to his broth­ers as soon as they came down to Egypt, but then he would not have led them to this re­form. Had Joseph re­vealed his iden­tity right away, the broth­ers’ change would have been merely cos­metic. Joseph wished to ex­am­ine if they had un­der­gone a real change in per­son­al­ity. For this, he had to put them to a test of broth­er­hood again. Only when he saw that they acted to­ward Ben­jamin as broth­ers should, only when he clar­i­fied that the prob­lem was dealt with at its core, only then could Joseph re­veal his iden­tity and make peace with his broth­ers.

We all face tests of broth­er­hood. We all have fam­i­lies, and at dif­fer­ent points in time, we face these ques­tions: How much ef­fort am I pre­pared to make for my brother? Do I worry enough about my rel­a­tives? Do I in­vest time, en­ergy and thought to help my sib­lings or my par­ents?

This week’s To­rah por­tion teaches us that even if we have failed in tests of broth­er­hood in the past, it does not mean we will in the fu­ture. There will al­ways be other op­por­tu­ni­ties in which we can suc­ceed. ■


PLATE DE­PICT­ING Joseph sold by his broth­ers, 1550-1554, The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art.

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