By Rabbi Aron Tendler
Yoseph, power baron and master manipulator, had met his match. Yehudah, the
acknowledged leader among the brothers and the king to be, had had enough.
Enough of Yoseph's accusations; enough of Yoseph's conspiracies; enough of
Yoseph's inconsistencies. It was time to bring the questions and confusion
to a head.
It was time for a confrontation between assumed royalty and real royalty. It
was time for Egypt to experience the power of Yehudah's prodigious strength,
fearless courage, and unshakable belief. It was time for Egypt to see a true
At the end of last week's Parsha, Yoseph's manipulations came to a head.
With Binyamin as the fall guy, the brothers found themselves in a difficult
and compromised position. Binyamin had been caught with the goods! Binyamin
had been framed as a thief and ingrate. Binyamin and the young Jewish nation
were in mortal danger.
The brothers rent their garments and threw themselves on Yoseph's mercy.
Yehudah, as their representative, took the lead. When first accused,
Yehudah's response was righteously indignant. His retort to Yoseph's officer
echoed his own father's indignation in response to Lavan's accusation of
thievery. "How dare you accuse us of stealing your precious chalice! We are
the great-grandchildren of Avraham. Avraham, whose camels were immediately
recognized because they were always muzzled, lest they graze in someone
else's fields. Avraham, who divorced his beloved nephew from the family
because he did not respect the property of others. Avraham who paid an
outrageously inflated price for a burial plot for Sarah that by rights he
could have claimed as his own. How dare you accuse us of the one quality
that has always set us apart from all other people! The one by whom you find
the chalice shall die and the rest of us will be your slaves!"
Had Yehudah lost his mind? Why had he offered death for the one and
enslavement for all the others? More so, it was not legal. A thief does not
get the death penalty. The extended family of a thief is not punished for
his crimes with enslavement. Clearly, Yehudah was speaking with impassioned
exaggeration because he knew with certainty that none of his brothers could
have ever stolen.
The brothers were in shock. On the one hand, they knew with absolute
certainty that Binyamin had not stolen the chalice. On the other hand, the
evidence had been found in his saddlebag! More so, the monies that had been
returned to the brothers after their first purchase of grain (52:27) was
evident as soon as the bags were opened. However, this time, the chalice was
found buried inside the bag of grain. It was as if someone had attempted to
hide it! Either Binyamin was being framed, and if so, why? On the other
hand, could it possibly be that Binyamin had stolen the chalice? Could
Binyamin have been imitating his own mother Rachel when she had stolen
Lavan's Terafim - idols and hid them in the cushions upon which she had been
sitting? Could Binyamin, the youngest of the brothers have mistakenly
attempted to protect the "family" by stealing the Egyptian Viceroy's divining
Binyamin, like the rest of the brothers, had to have wondered how Yoseph knew
so much about them. Yoseph knew that they did not eat the sciatic nerve -
the Gid Hanashe. Yoseph knew the birth order of the brothers as well as
which brother had been born to which of Yaakov's four wives. How did he know
so much? It must have been the result of divination and "magic". Maybe
Binyamin thought that now that the eleven brothers were again together he
could protect them from the schizophrenic viceroy by taking his crystal ball.
The questions and doubts clashed with their desire to deny Binyamin's guilt.
Let me add another consideration unique to Yehudah. Remembering the incident
with Rachel stealing the Terafim, Rashi (31:32) referenced the Medresh that
explained the devastating effect of Yaakov's "curse." Yaakov's decree was
fulfilled. Rachel had stolen the Terafim and then died while giving birth to
Binyamin. What if Binyamin had imitated his mother? Could Yehudah's
impassioned response to the accusation result in Binyamin's death?
Immediately, the brothers rent their garments and began to do Teshuva. They
needed G-d's protection and intervention.
In retrospect, we see that there are many differences between Yaakov's decree
against Rachel and Yehudah's suggested punishment of Binyamin. First,
Binyamin did not steal the chalice whereas Rachel had stolen the Terafim.
Secondly, Yaakov spoke definitively about the thief's death but never
suggested that it would be Lavan's decision. On the other hand, Yehudah
placed the ultimate decision in the hands of Yoseph, not G-d. Yoseph would
have to decide what punishment to give. Nevertheless, Yehudah and the
brothers did not know the truth about the chalice. Immediately they turned
By the time they returned to Egypt and Yoseph's home, Binyamin had reassured
his brothers that he had not taken the chalice. Therefore, it had to have
been a setup. Therefore, Yehudah realized that it was time to find out the
truth. It was time for a confrontation.
Once Yehudah was convinced that Yoseph was perpetrating a conspiracy against
Binyamin and the family, he allowed his mind to dwell on the inconsistencies
and questions. What were Yoseph's motives and goals? What were G-d's
reasons for allowing the entire episode to have occurred?
The brothers had been raised under the influence of the Covenant Between the
Halves. Twenty-two years earlier they had sold their brother into slavery
because their interpretation of the meaning and sequence of the prophecy
differed from Yoseph and Yaakov's interpretation. Now, facing the insidious
intrigues of the Egyptian viceroy, Yehudah and the brothers understood that
Yaakov and Yoseph had been right and all that had transpired was intended to
begin the second stage of the covenant and force them into slavery. It would
not be the first or last time that our enemies conspired to manipulate
innocent events to further their hatred of Yaakov's children.
In their minds, Yoseph was another pawn in G-d's plans for their own personal
destiny. Nevertheless, Yehudah, as king, would not accept the inevitability
of slavery for his people until he had stripped away every semblance of
logic and reason from Yoseph's contrived accusations.
Once Yehudah accepted the possibility that this was the beginning of their
slavery, he was free to confront Yoseph, king to king. If Yoseph was to be
the ruler whom G-d intended to enslave the children of Yaakov he would have to
meet certain criteria.
The brothers had been raised to believe in their mission as Avraham's heirs.
Their purpose was to continue Avraham's legacy of teaching the world to
believe and trust in G-d. This could only be accomplished by a nation. No
one individual or group of individuals could ever teach an entire world,
however, a nation could! Therefore, they realized that the stage of slavery
was intended to allow the family of Yaakov to grow and develop into the nation
of Israel. However, in order for that to happen, the hosting nation would
have to be benevolent and encouraging, rather than evil and selfish. The
hosting nation would have to have a core sense of judiciousness and morality
rather than an illogical drive to negate and destroy.
Yehudah's confrontation with Yoseph was intended to ascertain if Yoseph was
worthy of being the ruler who would enslave the sons of Yaakov. Yehudah
decided to play along with Yoseph's contrived accusations. Approach Yoseph
as if Binyamin was guilty and see how fair, compassionate and judicious he
really was. Clearly, the whole chalice incident had been a setup, so, if
Yoseph would ignore Yehudah's plea for clemency and compromise, then Yoseph
was none other than another Lavan and Eisav intent on destroying the Bnai
Yisroel. If that would be the case, Yehudah would fight for his and his
brother's safe return to Canaan and Yaakov. However, if Yoseph relented and
either forgave Binyamin's contrived transgression or took Yaakov's pain into
consideration and accepted Yehudah in exchange for Binyamin, then there was
more to Yoseph that deserved further investigation. Then, it was possible
that Yoseph was the intended ruler who would help guide the family of Yaakov
into their next stage of destiny.
It is interesting to note that Rav Eliyahu Ki Tov in his Sefer Haparshios,
concludes that only one of Yaakov's own sons could have ever enslaved the
other brothers. No one else would have had the love, compassion, and
commitment to ensure the growth of the family into a nation.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.