"And Yosef was the ruler over the land... and Yosef's brothers came and
bowed twice before him, down to the ground. And Yosef saw his brothers, and
he recognized them, but he made himself a stranger to them..." [42:6,7]
Many commentators examine Yosef's behavior and explain why he felt it
necessary to display cruelty towards his brothers. But the Kedushas Levi
takes an entirely different approach, demonstrating that Yosef was in fact
demonstrating maximal kindness as well as self-control.
The Kedushas Levi points out that when someone loses any sort of battle or
contest against another, he usually feels pain and regret. When Yosef had
his dreams which prophecied that his brothers would come and bow before
him, they had mocked him terribly. At this point, if the brothers would
have known, when they were fulfilling his dream and bowing before him, that
this was their brother Yosef -- why, they would have felt tremendous
emotional pain in proportion to the laughing they had done previously.
Thus the Torah is showing us Yosef's tremendous character. Any normal
person would have been delighted to take maximal advantage of a situation
like this, for revenge if nothing else - to let those who hated him feel
low and subjugated to him. Yosef does precisely the opposite. Specifically
at the moment when they were bowing before him, fulfilling his prophecy, he
hid his identity from them to save them from that pain and embarrassment.
May we all merit to follow in the footsteps of Yosef.