This week we see the climax of the Joseph story. With the memorable songs still ringing through our ears, we watch Joseph rises to power in Egypt, saving the Egyptians from famine, while raising his own status among his new people.
However, we need to share a thought for his poor father Jacob, left at home for many years, grieving over the loss of his son. We are left with a question; when Joseph became powerful and influential, why did he not seek out his family? He knew where they lived and that his father would want to know he was alive and well. Even if he could not leave himself, he could have sent word to them explaining where he was and why.
To further the question, when his brothers finally show up in Egypt looking for food, Joseph did not reveal himself straightaway, he tricked and tested them. These do not sound like the actions of a righteous person.
Rabbi A Twerski offers us an amazing insight that explains Joseph’s baffling actions. Joseph knew exactly what he was doing, and was, in fact, demonstrating such emotional strength and restraint. He realised that the only way to reconnect with his family was to give his brothers the self-esteem they needed and the ability to forgive themselves.
Joseph tested his brothers so that he would know if they were truly sorry for what they had done to him. He needed to know that they had done teshuvah (repentance), and there is no greater test for teshuvah then being faced with the same situation again and only then reacting differently. When Joseph summons his younger brother Benjamin, and then accuses him of stealing, the brothers could have hung him out to dry and saved their own necks, but they did not. They stood up for him and tried to protect him. Joseph saw from the acts of his brothers that they had done teshuvah.
Only at this point Joseph could reveal himself to his brothers because he knew that they were changed men, and that when they would ask for forgiveness for what they did to him, it would be sincere and heartfelt.
Joseph’s actions were to help build his brothers, to let them gain self-esteem and feel that they could unload the burden of guilt that they carried. Even though this would be hard for his father, he knew that Jacob would support his decision, because it was in order to build up the character of each of Jacob’s children. So too us, we are often faced in situations where we are waiting for the apology. We must always endeavour not to shame anyone, not destroy their confidence, and realise that the responsibility is on us to treat the other person with dignity and respect.