Moshe Kempinski
Moshe KempinskiCourtesy

Joseph is away from his father for almost twenty two years and yet even when he achieves prominence he does not try to reach out to him. Many of our commentators have grappled with the question with a wide variance of possible answers.

There is another question that needs to be explored regarding Joseph’s behavior after being made the viceroy.

Joseph creates a painful and convoluted process with regards to his brothers "who did not recognize him" . What could have been a swift though painful meeting becomes a drawn out process with twists and turns. What then was Joseph’s purpose behind these actions?

Could it have simply been a result of his anger twisted with a sense of revenge? That is extremely doubtful because as we see, once a certain line was crossed, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in tears and relief. Clearly there was another purpose and agenda.

Perhaps according to some of our sages, it was simply a way to bring about the fulfillment “in full“ of the dreams that he had dreamt over twenty years earlier.

We read “And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them."(Genesis 42:9).He realized that what was unfolding before his eyes was the fulfillment of those dreams. Yet immediately the verse continues “He said to them, 'You are spies! You have come to see how vulnerable our land has become.'"(ibid)

Wasn’t the fact that his brothers were bowing before him now enough of a fulfilment of his dreams? Could it simply be that the fact that Binyamin was missing as the eleventh brother blocked the “dreams“ from complete fulfillment?

Perhaps on a spiritual level Joseph was trying achieve much more. Perhaps in light of the destiny of this people he needed to achieve more through and for his brothers.

All the events that had occurred with Joseph and his brothers laid the groundwork for the fulfilment of a covenant made with Abraham.

“Hashem says to Abraham And He took him outside, and He said, 'Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you are able to count them.' And He said to him,'So will be your seed.'"(Genesis 15:5 )

Yet Abraham asked, "O Hashem G-d, how will I know that I will inherit it?" (ibid 8)

It is then that Hashem reveals a powerful and secret laden vision that is meant to convey the following:

"And He said to Abram, 'You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years'...... On that day, Hashem formed a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt until the great river, the Euphrates.'"( ibid 13, 18)

All these twelve brothers were the seeds of a people who were destined for a long journey through history in order to achieve Destiny’s ultimate purpose. That is to reveal G-d’s mastery of the world by using this people as His witness and measuring stick.

"You are My witnesses,(Atem Eidai)" declares Hashem, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no G-d formed, And there will be none after Me. I, even I, am Hashem, And there is no savior besides Me (Isaiah 43:10-11)

In order for that to happen the brothers would need to undergo a sincere and true process of Teshuva, of repentance

Maimonides in the Laws of Repentance writes that one can only fully repent for a sin committed when he is put into the same circumstance that led him to sin initially, and this time he does not succumb to the temptation.(Rambam Mishne Torah Hilchot Teshuva 2:1)

Joseph was aware of the deep distrust between the other brothers and the children of Rachel ,the woman that Jacob loved so .It is that strain that lead to the selling of Joseph.

Yet it is that selling of Joseph that set the stage for the Teshuva process to begin. It was critical that Benjamin the remaining son of Rachel to arrive as well. It was he who would be the final piece in that process.

Benjamin would be placed in the precarious position of possibly being left for slavery in the same way Joseph was sold into slavery. As the brothers were told: ”But he said, 'Far be it from me to do this! The man in whose possession the goblet was found he shall be my slave, but as for you go up in peace to your father.'”( Genesis 43:17).

Just exactly what happened when Joseph went into slavery

Joseph was sold to a caravan of merchants “.. and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, and their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, going to take it down to Egypt."(Genesis 37:25)

So too when they went down to Egypt with Benjamin we read “So Israel, their father, said to them, 'If so, then do this: take some of the choice products of the land in your vessels, and take down to the man as a gift, a little balm and a little honey, wax and lotus, pistachios and almonds.'"(Genesis 43:11)

So the stage has been created and set.

According to the Rambam true Teshuva necessitates true Regret followed by a heartfelt admission .

We read the following "'We are truly guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; therefore all this distress has come upon us.' And Reuben said, 'Did I not tell you to do no wrong to the boy, but you paid no heed. Now comes the reckoning for his blood.'" (42:21-22).

Rambam continues and teaches that True Teshuva is finally achieved by acting out on that decision to do Teshuva by “Acting Differently” if the same situation arises. The greatest test comes when faced with the same choices .

The brothers could have sacrificed Benjamin just as they did with Joseph and returned home safely. Instead Yehuda says;

“'It will come to pass, when he sees that the boy is gone, he will die, and your servants will have brought down the hoary head of your servant, our father, in grief to the grave. For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy from my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him to you, I will have sinned against my father forever.' So now, please let your servant stay instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and may the boy go up with his brothers. For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!'" (Genesis 44:31-34)

The process of Teshuva was complete and the river had been crossed.

“Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, "Take everyone away from me!" So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept out loud, ..”(ibid 45:1-2)

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved