Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5771
Parashat Hashavuah: Better Bow Early than Bow Late
One of the most famous questions on the stories of Chumash is why Yosef put his brothers through the mental anguish of not knowing whether this powerful leader would kill them or spare them and why delay informing Yaakov that his dear son was still alive and well. The most famous answers are along the lines that Yosef felt a need to have the dreams carried out, as this was his prophecy of sorts to fulfill, or that the brothers needed to have atonement for their horrible sin.
Rav Hirsch, though, felt that such concerns should remain within the realm of the Creator and Leader of the world to arrange. Yosef need not help Hashem fulfill His prophecies or decree atonement on others (which people could use to justify taking revenge). Rather, Yosef was using the opportunity, of all things, to improve his relationship with his brothers. You see, each side had serious elements of misgiving and mistrust toward the other. Yosef did not think it was healthy to resume their open relationship while he still felt the brothers’ inability to soften their stance toward him and feel the pain of a brother, even one who might be guilty of a crime (as it must have appeared that Binyamin later was). The brothers did express their candid remorse for not having mercy on Yosef (when they thought he could not understand them) and did come to the full support of Yosef’s one full brother, Binyamin.
The other part of the clearing of the air was from the perspective of the brothers’ outlook on Yosef. They had viewed him as a power hungry person who would do whatever he could to gain dominion over them. Here, he was showing them what he could do to them and then not do it.
While not wanting to argue with Rav Hirsch, the latter idea is not simple. After all, showing them exactly what he could do to them was arguably the proof that he wanted them to understand how much more powerful he was than they. Perhaps, then, we can take the thesis of wanting to clear the air in a slightly modified direction.
Yosef knew based on the dreams that, one way or another, his brothers were going to bow down to him. This was seen through the eleven objects (stalks or stars), which represented them, bowing down to the corresponding object that represented Yosef. This could happen in a way in which the brothers would bow down to him as their brother, Yosef, by virtue of his power over them. Yosef did not want that to be the relationship between them. He wanted there to be a relationship of joint dependence one on the other, including Yosef request of the brothers to make sure that they take his bones to the Land along with them. Yosef arranged it that they would bow down to him, not with the realization of who he was, but while thinking that he was some unknown Egyptian leader. By the time Yosef was ready to reveal himself to them, it was on the terms of brothers, after which he no longer had them to bow down to him.
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