What was Yosef trying to accomplish with his brothers? What was his game plan? Did he follow it through?
These questions arise spontaneously when reading the stories of the encounters between Yosef and his brothers. Maybe Yosef was checking to see if his brothers repented; perhaps he was trying to make his dreams come true or that he just wanted to be reunited with Binyamin.
The Torah commentaries are interesting and give us some clarification. Nevertheless, it is difficult to explain Yosef's entire behavior, which appear to be a demonstration of an inner conflict. On the one hand, a harsh attitude toward his brothers: the charge of espionage, imprisonment, the demand to bring Binyamin and the goblet affair. On the other hand, Yosef offers very friendly gestures: the return of money in secret (in both visits) and offering a meal fit for kings (43:31-34)
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When contemplating Yosef’s plan of action, the assumption that Yosef acted out of logic and calculated judgment seemingly stands out. However, it should be noted that three times in the story, Yosef responds with a powerful emotional expression – crying.
He cries when his brothers feel guilty about selling him, when he sees Binyamin and in the next Parasha where his cry is heard not only in Pharaoh's house but all throughout Egypt (45:2). Yosef felt strong feelings in his encounters. He gives them a place and does not try to repress them. It seems that these feelings played a central role in the story, alongside his calculated plans.
The recognition of Yosef’s emotional attributes enables us to look at him as a broader figure, composed of intellect and emotion, harsh speech and weeping. This observation reduces the need to explain all of his actions as part of a calculated formula. It’s apparent that he had a plan in dealing with his brothers but at the same time, he was also merciful and full of compassion (43:30).
Looking at Yosef’s actions through this emotional prism attests to the great change that he underwent. Yosef was always the one who told the truth as it is. No fake news. No sentiments. This is why he “ratted out” his brothers to his father and recounted his dreams without taking into consideration the emotional impact these dreams would have. Yosef has since evolved. In the reunion with his brothers, he gives room for weeping and compassion for them, alongside the harsh treatment. His behavior may be strategically deficient but Yosef is now at a more complete state of being.
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Looking at ourselves and others through only the intellectual prism limits our existence. It requires us to conduct ourselves only by rational and coherent actions – it has to make perfect logical sense. A slightly different approach, one which includes the positive emotional dimension of existence, enables us to live a more wholesome lifestyle. To express feelings. To accept other’s imperfections. To relate to our friend’s struggles and joys. To act beyond the letter of the law.
I think a lesson we take from this Parasha is how to approach the close circle of people that are around us -especially our children. How many times were we as parents “correct” and “justified” for the harsh treatment of our child. Let us try and take a deep breath and allow ourselves to let positive emotions guide us from time to time. If the Viceroy of Egypt and the righteous Tzadik Yosef was able to do that – so can we.
I end (as I always do) with a personal question. Is there someone in your life that is in need of a new emotional approach from you?
Rabbi Oded Karavani
Director of Student Activities