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Joseph - Idealist and Realist

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Joseph’s behavior is very difficult to understand. As viceroy of Egypt, he has the means to contact his father but refrains from doing so. When his brothers come down to Egypt to buy food supplies, he puts them through an emotionally torturous ordeal. He imprisons his brother Shimon and will only release him, if the brothers return with their younger brother Binyamin, something he knows would be incredibly hard on his aging father. When Binyamin finally comes down to Egypt, he frees Shimon and sends them home. Yet, he tortures them once more by setting up Binyamin as a thief.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains Joseph’s calculation as follows: Joseph understood the importance of reuniting his family and deeply desired this unity. However, he knew that for a real and meaningful unification he had to overcome his resentment towards his brothers and they had to realize and regret mistreating him in such a horrific way. Making contact with his family before mending the underlying resentments may have ended up destroying the family and hurting his father even more. His brothers lack of compassion as he cried out to them to save him was etched deep in his psyche. He knew that both he and they had work to do before a meaningful reunified family would be a remote possibility.

He does not put his brothers through difficulties for the purpose of torturing them, but rather, for the purpose of waking them up to see and regret their dreadful behavior towards him. Only upon observing their true regret and change was Joseph able to overcome his deep pain and resentment towards his brothers.

Joseph is struggling. On the one hand, he desperately desires a reunited loving family. On the other hand, he is honest with himself and realizes that, although he wants family harmony restored, it cannot happen until he is able to drop his deep seated resentment towards his brothers. He works towards this goal and is finally able to overcome his feelings of negativity towards his brothers and restore family peace and unity.

We learn from Joseph that our goal should always be harmony and peace. At the same time, we need to be real and honest with our feelings and work on ourselves to create true peace and harmony. This is our challenge!