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The brothers (of Joseph) said to each other: 'Indeed we are guilty of (what we did) to our brother - that we saw his personal anguish when he pleaded with us, and we took no heed. That is why this trouble has befallen us' (42:21).
Joseph's brothers arrived in Egypt to buy provisions from Pharaoh's reserves at the beginning of the seven years of famine. His Viceroy knew exactly who they were. He declared they were spies, and he threw them into prison. He relented - most of the way - only three days later. Surprising his captives that he 'feared G-d' (42:18), he pronounced that only one brother instead of nine was to be held hostage until Benjamin's arrival 'so that your words may be verified' (42:19).
That was when the brothers recalled their manner of selling Joseph twenty-plus years earlier: 'Indeed we are guilty of (what we did) to our brother - that we saw his personal anguish when he pleaded with us, and we took no heed. That is why this trouble has befallen us' (42:21). They became introspective and recognized their fate as a Divine punishment for their cruel treatment of Joseph. That makes sense - as the Midrash Hagadol puts it: 'Happy are the righteous who submit to retribution with joy and declare the Almighty just in whatever way He acts'.
But what appears unusual is the precise moment the brothers associated their misfortune at the hands of the Viceroy with what they had done to Joseph long ago. They did not recall it when they were accused of being spies. Nor when they were told that they were - save one - his prisoners until Benjamin would come down to Egypt. Nor even when they were all thrown into jail. They only recalled their treatment of the young Joseph after the Viceroy suddenly became more 'generous' and issued what was for all-bar-one a royal pardon.
Perhaps this shows the educative value coming from strangers. Recently, a friend related to me how, here in Jerusalem, an old man had difficulty in placing his contact lenses over his eyes. He was sitting forlornly on a public bench - after midnight. Two young strangers approached him. One held him straight, and the other gently put the contact lenses into the right position. They then wished him well before departing. My friend told me that 'such a thing would never have happened to him where he came from in America. More likely, one would have held him down and the other run off with his wallet'. He told me afterwards that it was just things like that which showed him new, positive, standards.
Similarly here. The Viceroy showed trust in them by releasing nearly all the brothers, even though he clearly demonstrated his belief that they were a distinct hazard to the welfare of the Egyptian nation. He showed mercy towards them… something they failed to do to their own brother 'when he pleaded with us, and we took no heed' - who was also seen as a threat to the future of what was to become the Israelite nation…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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