In Vayeshev, Yosef is sold down to Egypt by his brothers, rises in the house of Potiphar, and finally ends up in prison. Miketz sees his release from jail, rise to be Pharoah’s viceroy, and meets his brothers - finally revealing his identity to them at the start of parshas vayigash. (You can see why it was perfect material for a musical!) I would like to repeat something I heard in the name of Rav Neventzal regarding the entire Yosef story. It is an approach which completely tears apart the simple perspective of events, and is actually my favourite dvar torah on chumash I have ever heard. So enough of the pre-match hype, and here goes…

The basic question is in the title; why didn’t Yosef’s brothers realise that this mysterious Egyptian viceroy character was their brother? But both the question and its eventual answer need explanation, so let’s embark upon reliving the chain of events which span the Yosef episode - but from the brothers‘ perspective…

The brothers, for whatever reason (and several reasons are offered), sell their brother Yosef into slavery. He was originally sold to yishmaelim, but was eventually sold on to Egyptians, and made it to Egypt. For a slave to eventually make his way to Egypt in those days was not so rare; Egypt was a major power - so the possibility of Yosef ending up there would/should not have been completely out of the brothers’ minds. In fact, the brothers separated out in Egypt to search for their brother Yosef (rashi 42;13). Anyway, we go on. Years later, 10 of the brothers (all but Binyomin) are sent down to Egypt to purchase food due to the famine in the Land of Israel, and they meet with the viceroy of Egypt (Yosef to us, but ‘the viceroy’ to them.) Now we are told that the brothers did not recognise Yosef for he now had a beard (rashi 42;8) - that is not too major a change of appearance, and one ask why this did not ring a bell here in the brothers’ mind; but ok it didn’t. Next, this viceroy accuses them of being spies, and they respond by saying that they are actually all brothers and they have left one brother back in C’naan. The viceroy then asks them to prove this by brining down this remaining brother to Egypt, and meanwhile takes Shimon as a captive. This is extremely puzzling; since when did people get a chance to protest their innocence at being accused as spies in ancient Egypt? And what does it prove if they are all brothers; maybe they are a family of spies? And what proof is it to bring someone who may or may not be their brother; as far as the viceroy is concerned, they could take a man off the street and pretend it’s their brother. And which ruler would run the risk of letting nine spies free whilst only keeping one in prison? And if this viceroy really thought that they were spies, why did he fill their bags with food anyway? Presumably, all these questions were going through the brothers’ minds. Thus, they must have realised that something was out of the ordinary at least regarding this viceroy and his treatment of them.

Next, the brothers manage to bring Binyomin down to Egypt, and Shimon is returned. The viceroy, in apology for his false accusations towards them, makes a meal in his house for the brothers. Unsurprisingly, it was hardly the protocol for a leader of ancient Egypt to treat those he had accused with a personal free meal at his house to apologise. In fact, it probably wasn’t even protocol to give someone accused of being a spy enough time to establish his innocence in the first place! Didn’t the brothers think this was not normal? Then, this viceroy sits the brothers in age order and according to which brothers were from which wife of Yaakov (rashi 43;33) and sits Binyomin beside him. [And apparently this viceroy also told them their history up until the point in time when Yosef was sold.] Why didn’t the brothers even have an idea that this was their brother Yosef? Eventually, after they leave and the cup is planted in Binyomin’s bag, the brothers return and Yosef reveals his true identity to them.

The question is, in summary, it seems that the brothers had many clues: that a) this viceroy was behaving differently to them , b) they thought Yosef was in Egypt c) this viceroy must have been vaguely familiar in appearance, d) he had told them their family history. [e) they believed in HaShem and knew their family history, so it wouldn’t have been utterly strange for HaShem to have caused them to meet up with their brother.] So why didn’t they guess that this was Yosef? The answer is that the consequences of this viceroy being Yosef would have been too major an impact for the brothers. For this would be an open demonstration and admission that they were incorrect in selling their brother into slavery; for his dreams had indeed come true, and HaShem had made him succeed. This would also be added to the fact that they would now have to admit what they did to their father after all these years. In other words, guessing that this was Yosef would mean admitting that the last years of life had been lived in guilt. (And though they had previously felt guilt for selling Yosef, this was principally based upon remorse for causing grief to their father.) Consequently, the thought never entered their head - despite all the clues - that this viceroy was really Yosef, for it was never allowed to be an option. In fact, this is why, when the pasuk (45;3) tells us that the brothers were speechless after Yosef had revealed himself, rashi says ‘because of the embarrassment’ ie the shame at being showed to be wrong all these years. This is also the reason that one of the first things Yosef does after revealing himself to the brothers (45;3), is to tell them not to be angry/feel guilt for selling him (45;5) - for that was the implication of Yosef revealing his true identity. The lesson to learn here is one of modeh al ha’emes (avos 5;10) ie acquiring the a

bility to be objective about things and admitting truth - regardless of how painful the personal consequences might be. For if the Torah went out of its way to relate to us every detail of the Yosef episode to give us the lesson that the brothers erred - at their lofty spiritual level - in some aspect of this midah, then it’s important to make that effort to make ourselves able to receive and absorb this lesson to the best of our abilities.

Have a great Shabbes

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