Miketz: Clueless Brothers

Why Don't They Recognize Joseph?

In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt to buy food because of famine in the Land of Israel. They don’t realize that the powerful viceroy ruling the Egyptian empire is their own younger brother Joseph, whom they’d sold into slavery years before. But why can’t they recognize their own brother? Yes, he has a beard, but that isn’t enough to make him unrecognizable. There are other clues that the viceroy is actually Joseph, including:    

– Per Rashi, the brothers suspect that Joseph might be in Egypt because that’s where most slaves wind up.

– The viceroy keeps asking questions about their father and brother back home. 

– He accuses them of being spies but doesn’t execute them, instead giving them food and letting nine go free.

– He insists on special treatment for Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother.

According to Rabbi Avigdor Negenzahl, the ten sons of Jacob don’t grasp the truth that the viceroy is their brother Joseph because it would emotionally overwhelm them. Joseph’s brothers have grown spiritually since throwing him in the pit and they sincerely repent the evil they did to him. But their characters could still use some improvement. Recall, one of the reasons the brothers resented Joseph was because he told them of his dreams, in which he was elevated and they bowed down to him. Now, he is viceroy of Egypt and they literally bow down to him in desperate need of food. Joseph’s dreams have proven accurate! And this is what his brothers aren’t ready to accept. They are righteous enough to admit they are wrong, but don’t want to admit that he was right. 

Here is a valuable lesson that can help us improve our relationships. Admit when you are at fault, and (even when it’s difficult) acknowledge that the person you so vehemently opposed turned out to be right all along.

Image: “Joseph and His Brothers” by Franz Maulbertsch, 1750

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