CALL WHEN YOU GET THERE" - WHY DID YOSEIF NOT WRITE HOME?
Taken from articles by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun and Rav Yaakov Meidan in Megadim vols. 1 and 2.
Ramban asks a very sharp question about the behavior of Yoseif once he had assumed power in Egypt. Given the fact that Yoseif was in a position to do whatever he wanted to do, and given the fact that Chevron, where Yaakov lived, was only a six-day journey from Egypt, how could Yoseif have not written a letter home to comfort his grieving father and assure him that he was still alive and well? The answer given by the Ramban is a shocking one. He claims that all of Yoseif's actions were driven by his desire to see his dreams (about the celestial bodies and the sheaves of wheat) carried out to their fullest, for he knew that they would be fulfilled. Rav Yitzchak Arama, in his work Akeidat Yitzchak, lashes out against this explanation of Ramban. He asks how Yoseif could deign to torture his father in this manner merely to see his dreams fulfilled. What would happen if they were not fulfilled? Furthermore, he explains, dreams are left in the hands of Hashem to fulfill, not for man to bring about their fulfillment. Given this, on what grounds does Ramban base his interpretation?
Rav Yoel Bin-Nun points out a further problem with the view of Ramban, a problem based solely on the text itself. When the brothers first appear before Yoseif and bow down to him, the first dream, that of the sheaves of wheat, is fulfilled. That dream referred to the brothers who were working in the fields at that time, as an Binyamin was yet a child, he was not included in the dream. The second time they come before him, there are now eleven brothers present, parallel to the eleven stars of the second dream. When they refer to Yaakov as "your servant," that serves as a fulfillment of the sun (representing Yaakov) bowing to Yoseif (the gemara in Brachot 55a deals with the absence of Yoseif's mother, represented by the moon). At this point both dreams are fulfilled, and yet Yoseif continues to conceal his true identity. Even further, his entire ruse of placing his goblet in Binyamin's sack occurs long after all this had occurred. Given this, how can Ramban claim that Yoseif's entire motivation was to see his dreams fulfilled?
There is a second answer, given by Ramban, Abarbanel, and the Akeidat Yitzchak. That is that Yoseif's entire goblet test was performed so as to restore family harmony, to make the brothers stand up for Binyamin. The commentators argue that Yoseif wanted to see that the brothers had not transferred their hatred for him to his full brother Binyamin. However, Rav Bin-Nun points out, there are problems with this answer as well. It would make sense that Yoseif wanted to somehow isolate Binyamin from the brothers, either to protect him or to send a message through him to Yaakov. However, to say that Yoseif actually expected his actions to create brotherly love is a bit far-fetched. While all of this did happen, it could not have been expected or planned by Yoseif. Even further, Yehuda's defense of Binyamin does not really focus on Binyamin, but rather on the pain that will be caused to Yaakov if Binyamin does not return home. Given this result, why do the commentators claim that Yoseif is aiming for familial peace?
Rav Bin-Nun's answer begins by taking the opposite perspective. What was Yoseif thinking for the twenty-two years that had elapsed since he had been sold? He did not know about the plot made amongst the brothers, and he did not know that they had tricked Yaakov by showing him the bloodstained coat. He was alone in Egypt, and Yaakov, his father who had loved him more than he loved any of his other children, had yet to send anyone out to find him! Certainly, given the proximity of the countries and the wealth and connections of Yaakov, someone should have been able to find him over the course of two decades! Over time, this sense that he had been abandoned built up and was compounded. Certainly Yaakov knew that the brothers hated Yoseif. Why then did he send Yoseif alone to find his brothers in the field? Was it possible that the brothers had convinced Yaakov that Yoseif was nothing more than a "tattletale" and that Yaakov knew and had conceded to their plans to get rid of him? Recent history certainly supported this possibility - Avraham sent away Yishmael in favor of Yitzchak, and Eisav, Yitzchak's favorite son, had lost his share of the birthright to Yaakov. Seemingly, paternal favoritism was not enough in the face of a divine selection of the chosen son.
The arrival of the brothers in Egypt sent Yoseif's thought-processes back to square one. When they first appeared before him, they stated "Your servants are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of C'naan; behold the youngest is with our father and one is missing." (42:7-13) Yoseif at this point began to wonder if he had in fact been cast away. Certainly Yaakov knew that twelve sons were needed for the nation to be complete - Yishmael had begot twelve princes, Eisav had twelve grandchildren, and even Nachor's descendants numbered twelve. Everyone in Yaakov's family knew that the nation could not be built if one of its essential parts was lacking! Yet, Yoseif tried to restrain himself further, hoping to hear the details of his sale.
However, Yehuda's speech in defense of Binyamin broke Yoseif down. In recounting Yaakov's misgivings about sending Binyamin to Egypt, Yehuda states "And your servant, my father, said to us, you know that my wife begot me two children. And one has gone out from me, and I said he was eaten, and I have not seen him since..." (44:24-30) Yoseif did not need to hear the rest of the speech. It was now apparent that Yaakov had been misled all along and was not part of a plot to rid the household of the troublesome son. Thus, it is at this point that Yoseif is no longer able to control himself, and he thus reveals his true identity to his brothers.
Rav Yaakov Meidan rejects this argument entirely out of hand. He asks how it was possible for Yoseif to even consider the fact that his father had turned against him. Hadn't he been Yaakov's favorite? Had not his mother, Rachel, been Yaakov's favorite wife? Further, if Yoseif really crumbled when Yehuda mentioned Yaakov's reaction to the news of Yoseif's disappearance, then why does the next verse not state that Yoseif could no longer hold back? Instead, Yoseif reveals his identity only after Yehuda offers himself as a slave in place of Binyamin! These are among the many objections raised by Rav Meidan to the position of Rav Bin-Nun. We will now proceed to discuss Rav Meidan's solution to the question of why Yoseif acted the way that he did toward his brothers.
Rav Meidan's suggestion is that the actions of both the brothers and of Yoseif aimed for the goal of the repentance of the brothers for the sale of Yoseif. Both Reuven and Yehuda, the two leaders among the brothers, act in ways that suggest this drive. When Yoseif first deals harshly with his brothers, Reuven's response to them is "Did I not tell you not to harm the child (Yoseif), and yet you did not listen; and now his blood is being avenged!" When the brothers return home to tell Yaakov that they must bring Binyamin down to Egypt, Reuven offers his own two sons' lives if he fails to return Binyamin to his father. Reuven, seeing himself culpable for the sale, focuses on the punishment for the action and accepts it upon himself. Yehuda also sees himself as potentially responsible for the sale, and seeks to rectify the situation, offering himself in place of Binyamin to serve as a slave to Yoseif.
It is difficult to say that Yoseif was blind to these actions of his brothers. He was certainly aware of the statements that were made in his presence, and, given his high level of intellect (as proven by his ability to interpret dreams), it is difficult to say that he did not understand the fact that his brothers were trying to repent for their previous actions. Even further, it can be suggested that Yoseif saw himself as a partner in the repentance process of his brothers, and sought to bring them to a complete repentance.
There are three instances during the course of the narrative when Yoseif cries, or at least feels the need to do so. The first is when he demands that they bring Binyamin down to Egypt. When Reuven chides his brothers for having sold Yoseif, Yoseif turns away from them and weeps (42:22-24). The second time is when Binyamin is brought down. There we are told that the sight of his full brother evoked Yoseif's mercy, and he left the room to cry to himself (43:30-31). The third time, Yoseif weeps openly in reaction to Yehuda's offer to serve in place of Binyamin. Is there any connection between these three instances? It appears that there is, and the connection relates to the repentance of the brothers.
When Reuven scolds his brothers for having sold Yoseif, Yoseif suddenly realizes that there was regret on the part of the brothers for the sale. This realization brought him to tears, but was as yet not enough to fully convince him that the brothers had made a complete turnaround, and thus he continued to conceal his identity. Yoseif hoped that the brothers would not bring Binyamin back with them. When he saw that they did, he experienced a sense of deja vu - once again the brothers had acted together to bring one of Rachel's children into a potentially fatal situation (Yoseif did not as yet know that Yehuda was willing to go to any extent to save Binyamin). He saw Binyamin's descent to Egypt as a repeat of his own story, and thus he sensed that the feelings of remorse that he had seen earlier had subsided, if they had ever really existed. His tears this time were as a result of his sense of pity and mercy for Binyamin. However, Yoseif decided to put his brothers to the ultimate test. He tried to make Binyamin into what he himself had been - the favorite. In place of a multi-colored coat, he gave Binyamin five times the amount of grain that he gave to the others. Furthermore, he made Binyamin the culprit who had stolen the goblet, allowing for the possibility that the other brothers would resent Binyamin as the one who had caused Yoseif to once again bring up the charge that they were spies.
It is at this point that the stage is set for the repentance to be complete. As Rambam writes in Hilchot Teshuva: "What is complete repentance? When one is presented with the opportunity to perform a sin that he has performed before, and he is capable of performing it, and he separates himself from it, not out of fear or out of physical weakness." The brothers once again had the chance to allow one of their own to be taken as a slave in Egypt. However, this time they acted in a way opposite to the way they had acted with regard to Yoseif. When the goblet was discovered, they tore their own garments (as opposed to having torn those of Yoseif at the time of the sale), and when Yehuda offered himself as a slave, Yoseif realized that the brothers had truly repented. It is thus at this point that he once again cries, a cry that is a continuation of his cries in the first case, and it is at this point that he reveals his true identity.
Rav Meidan proceeds to deal with why exactly this element of Teshuva is so essential to our story line. The answer relates to Torah as a whole and specifically with the historical progression found within Bereishit. Until this point in history, the generations had witnessed a process of weeding out those who were not fit to be a part of the foundation of Hashem's nation. One of the major focuses in this regard is "Torat HaGemul" - reward and punishment. Adam, Kayin, and the generation of the flood had all been punished for their iniquities. Yishmael and Eisav were "pushed aside" due to various actions or character flaws. By contrast, the forefathers are presented as individuals wholly worthy of being chosen by Hashem. On the whole, only their good deeds are stated in the Torah, and their sins are mentioned only through textual hints. A second aspect of the forefathers is that Hashem did not appear to one while he did to another. He appeared to Yitzchak only after the death of Avraham (25:11), and once He appeared to Yaakov in Be'er Sheva He ceased to appear to Yitzchak (see Rashi on 28:10). The twelve tribes were different. As the Kuzari states, they were the first generation where each and every one of them was worthy of receiving the Divine presence. However, is it possible that there existed such a group where each one of them was wholly righteous? Further, the stories that the Torah brings down about the tribes are almost entirely those that relate their "darker side" - Reuven's sin with Bilhah, Shimon and Levi destroying Shechem, Yehuda's incident with Tamar. As such, is it possible that Hashem would appear to a group whose flaws were so glaringly obvious?
The solution to this question relies on looking at the tribes not as twelve individuals, but rather as one collective group. Until now, individuals were judged with regard to their worthiness. Now, Jewish history had entered a new era - one of the tzibbur, the community. The defining characteristic of this community was to be not their absolute righteousness, but rather their ability to repent for their sins. Yehuda's conduct with regard to Tamar and the brothers' conduct before Yoseif exemplify this notion. Yoseif, the one brother about whom we are told both positive (his conduct in Potifar's house, for example) and negative (his tale-telling with regard to his brothers) was the one who formed the bridge between the era of the forefathers and the era of the tribes. Thus, it was Yoseif who put the entire teshuva mechanism into motion, manipulating the events and bringing his brothers to a full repentance.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Going back to the story of Yoseif interpreting the dreams of the butler, the baker, and Pharaoh, what was the great thing that Yoseif really did? It seems that the dreams are fairly straightforward - the butler dreamed that he would serve Pharaoh, the baker dreamed that birds would be eating from his head, and Pharaoh dreamed about meat and grain! Why couldn't the butler and baker figure out their own dreams? Why couldn't all of the wise men of the Egyptian court figure out Pharaoh's? What did Yoseif do for the butler that was so impressive that he remembered his "dream-interpreting" abilities two years later?
A further question is why Yoseif keeps on talking when he is before Pharoah. He was a lowly servant from a foreign land asked to do one specific thing - to interpret the dreams of the ruler of the Middle East. Who gave him permission to proceed to offer economic advice to Pharoah? One key to all of this may lie in the root word "patar," which appears in all of Tanach only in this context. What does this root really mean?
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