In this week’s parsha, Yoseif finds himself with all the power of the mightiest regime on the planet and the brothers who wronged him in his grasp. There is not one among us who would not relish that turn of fortune. Who could resist torturing the people who sold you into slavery, leading to 12 years of imprisonment and estrangement?
And on a surface reading of the text, that’s what one might come away with from Yoseif’s actions. But with a little bit of wisdom, we can see that Yoseif motives aren’t so vengeful.
After interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Yoseif is appointed to viceroy of all of Egypt. Several years go by and the famine spreads to Canaan. Yaakov sends the brothers (except Binyamin, Yaakov’s new favorite) to get food from Egypt. Upon arriving Yoseif recognizes the brothers but they don’t recognize him. Yoseif accuses them of being spies. The brothers appeal to Yoseif, but Yoseif demands that they leave Egypt and bring their youngest brother back while he holds Shimon captive. Then, Yoseif sends them on their way with the grain they had come to purchase.
On their trip back, the brother’s discover within their sacks, the money they had used to purchase the grain. Now in addition to being accused of being spies, they fear they’ll be accused of theft. They tell Yaakov everything. Needless to say, he’s reluctant to let Binyamin go to Egypt. Yehudah assures his father on his life, that he will return with Binyamin. The brothers travel again to Egypt. They try to give back the “stolen” money but Yoseif seems not to care. Instead he insists they feast, seating the brothers in their birth order. Afterwards, Yoseif instructs one of his servants to fill the brothers bags with food and money. But in Binyamin’s, he has him specially place his silver goblet.
The following morning when the brothers are to depart , Yoseif accuses them of theft as his silver goblet is now missing. Yoseif searches the brothers bags, once again by birth order, until he gets to Binyamin and sure enough finds the goblet. The brothers insist they all be punished as one, but instead Yoseif declares, “[Binyamin] shall be my slave, the rest of you may go up in peace to your father.” The parsha ends on a cliffhanger.
We’re being accused of what now?
What’s going through the brother’s heads during all this? At this point, they’ve come to the realization that they shouldn’t have sold Yoseif into slavery all those years ago. In fact, they use this trip to Egypt as an opportunity to find Yoseif and bring him back. But what happens when they get there? The series of bizarre misfortunes; accusations of spying, this viceroy’s obsession with Binyamin, the money in their sacks, etc.
Now because they know what they did was wrong, they viewed these misfortunes through the lens of divine retribution. Reuvein insists, ” ‘Did I not say to you in the following: Do not sin against the lad,’ but you did not listen: and now his blood is being avenged.” (Bereishis 42:22) And after they discover the money in their sacks, “What is this that Elokim has done to us.” (42:28) And that is certainly a level of humility and awareness of Hashem one should have in their life. But the brothers were obviously missing the big picture.
The other perspective.
Rabbi Denbo gives an extraordinary insight into these events. In fact it may be my favorite lesson I’ve ever learned from him.
In life, it is possible (albeit not easy) to admit that you’re wrong. I messed up. I lost my temper. I didn’t handle the situation right. It is something else entirely to recognize the other person may have been right all along. Maybe Mom does know what she’s talking about. Maybe my boss knows things I don’t.
The brothers knew they were wrong to sell Yoseif into slavery. So because of that, they were looking for their brother in Egypt as a slave. Had they said, “Remember those dreams he told us about. The one about us bowing down to him. Do you think maybe those came true?” Then when Yoseif approached them as Viceroy, they would have recognized him in an instant. And if not then, “You’re singling us 10 brothers out amongst all these people buying food, as spies?” And if it didn’t dawn on them then… “Why are you so asking so many questions about our little brother and our father? Oh you’re Yoseif!”
The list of opportunities goes on. He doesn’t care about the stolen money. He sits the brothers in their exact birth order. He searches their bags in their birth order. When Binyamin is found as the culprit, he tells the brothers they all can go except Binyamin, disregarding the charge about them being spies. Every step along the way, the answer is SCREAMING at the brothers.
But the only way they could possibly have seen it is if they had considered the possibility about Yoseif being right. It is essential to realize that once we dismiss a person as wrong, we miss a plethora of possible solutions to our problem.
Attempts at Unity
Not only do we lose those possible resolutions, we cut ourselves off from an important dimension of a relationship with that person. Yoseif could have revealed himself at any moment. Why didn’t he? When we shove in another person’s face the fact that we are right, the person shuts down, dismisses, and resents. Yoseif desperately wanted to avoid that. But if he can make his brothers see that he was right on their own, then they will come around and they can finally be one.
So when dealing with disagreements, do your best to have the humility to consider that maybe the person you’re arguing with might know or is seeing something you don’t. And if you do, you might realize the answer is staring you in the face.