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Shabbat Parashat Miketz | 5763

The Mark of Recognition

Harav Yosef Carmel

The Torah describes the first “reunion” between Yosef and his brothers in a curious manner: “And Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them…he spoke to them harshly…and Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” (Bereishit 42:7-8). Why does the Torah mention Yosef’s recognition of his brothers twice, once before their first exchange and once after? Chazal bring a few explanations of the stress of Yosef’s recognition of his brothers and their lack of recognition of him.
The Tanchuma (Miketz 10) explains that Yosef recognized his brothers even before seeing them, because he supervised “passport control” in order to find out when his brothers would arrive. This early recognition is actually referred to in the latter pasuk, which does not mention his seeing them. This approach also explains how a man as busy as Yosef would have come across his brothers. It had bothered Yosef that a mission had not been sent to search for him, and he waited for this day. A difficulty with this approach is the mention of the brothers’ lack of recognition of Yosef in the second pasuk, which makes more sense in the context of their face to face meeting, described in the former pasuk. Midrash Rabba (91:17) posits that the second mention of recognition is not to tell about a second event but to stress that Yosef’s treatment of his brothers when he was in a position of power was more benevolent than his brothers’ treatment of him under parallel circumstances.
 The gemara (Yevamot 88a) explains that the repetition is intended to stress that even though Yosef was able to recognize his brothers, they were unable to recognize him because he had left them without chatimat zakan (the mark of a beard) and now had one. Most understand the gemara that Yosef now had a beard which covered the face they recalled. However, there are a few difficulties. Firstly, the brothers should have known that Yosef would have a beard by this time and should have pictured him in that form. Secondly, we find that Yosef shaved before being presented to Paraoh and presumably kept the beard off. Finally, how does the term “mark of a beard” differ from “having a beard?”
Indeed, based on archeological and other information from Biblical times we know that Jews had beards. It is equally clear that Egyptian officials were shaven on a regular basis. The brothers came down looking for a Hebrew slave with a beard. They found instead a man who neither had a beard nor did he resemble his previous self, because the “mark of a beard” made him look somewhat different.
Sometimes, when one expects big changes, small ones can be more confusing.
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