Last week, we saw Joseph’s decision to test his brothers and leave his father unaware of his continued existence. We learnt Joseph was acting for the good of his brothers, allowing them to restore their self-esteem and move on from their troubled past.
This week, we read how, when faced with Judah’s heartfelt plea to save the life of their youngest brother Benjamin, Joseph can no longer hold himself back and reveals his identity to his brothers. The Torah explicitly states that Joseph was moved to act because he was so overcome by emotion at the change in his brothers’ characters that was now evident.
Even though he was overwhelmed and suffering from emotional torment, he protects his brothers from the embarrassment of recounting their previous wrong-doings in front of the Egyptians. Before revealing his identity he asks all the Egyptians present to leave. This act teaches us two things about the character of Joseph.
Firstly, he had to muster the courage to subdue all is emotions a while longer. If the Torah tells us that he could not wait and was bursting to tell them, that would imply he had to do it NOW. Yet we see he holds on for a suitable time. He had the strength to quell his own emotional pain, in order not to cause any pain to others.
Secondly he did so at the risk of his own life. The Egyptians were in the room for his protection as a political figure. At that point, the brothers did not know he was Joseph and could have attacked him once left unprotected but took that risk in order to protect their dignity.
Joseph is known by our sages as Yosef HaTzaddik, literally Joseph the Righteous. He got this name, because of his emotional self-restraint and his sensitivity to others. Throughout his story, whether it be his refraining from the immoral advances of Potiphar’s wife, helping the servants of Pharaoh in prison, hiding his existence from his family to save them from shame and to build their confidence, or putting himself in harm’s way, he demonstrates what made him so righteous.
Throughout the Torah we can see that whilst the traits of our forefathers are not so easy to emulate, they are there to show us what we, as human beings, are capable of and what we should aspire to.