Posted on December 21, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!” (Breishis 44:34) Now Yosef could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, “Take everyone away from me!” So, no one stood with him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers. And he wept out loud, so the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence. (Breishis 45:1-3)

This is the height of human drama being played out before our eyes, as described in the Holy Torah. As witnesses, as the audience to such a scene, what should we be thinking? What suddenly triggered Yosef to drop his charade? Why such an emotional outburst!? What does it tell us about Yosef? What does it teach us about human nature and interpersonal dynamics? This is not just a play. It is Torah. We are meant to learn something from this rich exchange. It could be that the answers are already too obvious but it might be helpful for us to spell them out explicitly.

That Yosef loved his brothers to his core we can have no doubt. All the while he was acting towards them with harsh tones, he was also reorganizing all of Egyptian society so they would find safe haven in a land where everyone was a stranger to fulfill the prophecy that they will be strangers in a strange land.

So, while he was playing with them in one way, he was working overtime for them in another. His love and desire to connect with them was present the entire time. He just had to wait for the right moment.

What was that right moment? When they came down to Egypt originally, he recognized them immediately but they didn’t recognize him. At that time the Torah tells us he saw the ten brothers and he remembered the dream. HASHEM had orchestrated that more than 90% of the prophecy embedded in that dream had been fulfilled. Not yet eleven stars were “bowing down” to him. He needed to engineer the last little part and bring Binyamin down as well.

In horseshoes and hand grenades, almost is good enough, but in prophecy precision is everything. They had judged him to be a false prophet. He had to prove them wrong and the dreams entirely right.

He also wanted to put them in the exact same situation as when he was crying out for mercy for his father when he was in the pit, and see if they would act differently this time. That would prove that they had actually done Teshuvah and regretted what they had done originally.

That’s what was happening when he cried out loud. The mask fell off. He could not play the game of cruel master with them anymore. The real him needed to jump out. I have said to little children in my office who come in with a pouty face that they are going to smile in 8 seconds and I start to count. Within 5 seconds they break out into laughter. This is not to be used in all cases but sometimes I can detect that that they are working too hard to be in a bad mood and children are naturally happy. The fun-loving, child-like nature is crying out to shine forth. So, Yosef wanted more than anything to shower his brothers with brotherly love.

What wore down his resistance and broke his façade? What suddenly changed? He heard Yehuda admitting the truth. Yehuda himself merited kingship because he admitted the truth. No more external coercion is necessary when someone “gets it” on their own.

Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishlei (28:13), “One who covers up his sins will not be successful but whoever admits and abandons (the bad way) will find mercy”. Isn’t it the truth!? When someone who wronged us asks for forgiveness suddenly all of the anger and suspicion instantly evaporates.

Like a debtor who even makes a partial payment or admits that he owes money, he is treated much differently than one who runs from his creditor. Mercy is aroused! The instant Yosef realized that they “get it” he couldn’t hold himself back anymore! At that moment the game was over, the play quickly ended, and for the first time now in twenty-two years, he could be himself again.