2003Joseph and his brother didn't see eye to eye on many things. Joseph, being the "good boy" of the family, calls on his brothers to behave and reports their behavior to his father. In addition, Joseph has some disturbing dreams which he shares with his brothers. The brothers who are feeling threatened by these dreams, want to get rid of Joseph. After some deliberation, they throw him into a pit until some nomad merchants come along and buy Joseph as a slave. The merchants in turn, sell Joseph in Egypt where he ends up in jail because of the false claims (of rape) of Potiphar's wife. When Pharaoh discovers Joseph's talent for dream interpretation, he frees Joseph from jail and appoints him to be second in command over all Egypt.
Punishment and Consequences
42:6 Joseph was like a dictator over the land, since he was the only one who rationed out food for all the people. When Joseph's brothers arrived, they prostrated themselves to him, with their faces to the ground.
42:7 Joseph recognized his brothers as soon as he saw them. But he behaved like a stranger and spoke harshly to them. 'Where are you from?' he asked. 'From the land of Canaan - to buy food,' they replied.
42:8 Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.
42:9 He remembered what he had dreamed about them. 'You are spies!' he said to them. 'You have come to see where the land is exposed to attack.'
42:10 'No my lord!' they replied. 'We are your servants who have come only to buy food.
42:11 We are all the sons of the same man. We are honorable men. We would never think of being spies!'
42:12 'No!' retorted [Joseph]. 'You have come to see where the land is exposed.'
42:13 'We are twelve brothers,' they pleaded. 'We are the sons of one man who is in Canaan. Right now the youngest brother is with our father, and one brother is gone.'
Your Torah Navigator
1. Why did Joseph act so harshly to his brothers?
2. Would you do the same to your brothers?
3. Why didn't the brothers recognize Joseph?
4. What would you answer to the accusations of Joseph of being a spy?
The Piyut (liturgy) on Yom Kippur associates the deaths of the Ten Martyrs as punishment for Joseph being sold into slavery; "He (the Roman governor) commanded, 'Judge this case... What is the law if a man kidnapped a brother and sold him?' They (the Ten Martyrs) answered, 'The kidnapper is to die.' Said he, 'What of your ancestors who sold their brother? Now you must accept the heavenly judgment upon yourselves for since your forefathers' times there have been none like you. Were they alive I would have prosecuted them before you, so you must bear the sin of your ancestors!
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Do you think it is right to judge a person for the sins of his father?
2. Do you hold a grudge against somebody else based on family feud?
3. Do you think the outcome of the story would be different if Joseph treated his brothers more appropriately?
Joseph's brothers judged him and Joseph later took his revenge on them. And it all starts with small issues, fights between children - a scuffle and nothing else, but with no end. These fights between the brothers cause much pain to all parties - Joseph, his brothers, and their father.
Joseph was sure that he was right and his brother was just as sure. One of the lessons we learn from this is mentioned in the Ethics of our Fathers (1:11). Avtalyon said: Sages, be careful with your words lest you deserve to be exiled and are exiled to a place of bad waters. A smart person knows that anything he says has a result. If Joseph would realize that his taunting of his brothers is that annoying, he would stop. If the brothers would realize that they are so threatened by Joseph's dream that they will sell him into slavery, they would stop. If Jacob, their father, will realize that his favoritism will cause all of this, he might express his feelings differently. If Joseph will realize that if he will act as if he forgives his brothers, then maybe the story of the ten martyrs would never be told. The message from the story of Joseph and his brothers is clear. Be careful of what you say and do because the consequences of our words may have a bigger effect than we may think.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah.
Prepared by Rabbi Meni Even-Israel, campus educator, University of Maryland, College Park.
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Miketz at MyJewishLearning.com.