|Yosef's Brothers See the Light
Published: Monday, December 16, 2019 10:21:47 PM
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“Yosef’s brothers then said one to another, but we are guilty concerning our brother as we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us and we paid no attention, that is why this anguish has come upon us.” (Bereshis 42:21)
This verse describes how Yosef’s brothers became introspective on experiencing the strange and cruel behavior of the Egyptian Viceroy (Yosef) towards them. They recognized that what was happening to them was a Divine punishment for the way they had mistreated Yosef 22 years earlier.
Ramban explains that the brothers recognized that the callous and cruel way that they had refused to even listen to Yosef as he pleaded with them not to sell him into slavery was even worse than the actual sale itself. How could they harshly and callously witness the suffering of their own brother and not be aroused to mercy and compassion? This sin was the cause of their present predicament of being treated with such cruelty and callousness by the Egyptian Viceroy. Yosef’s brothers clearly saw the Hand of G‑d – Measure for Measure.
Rav Pam explains that the lesson is that when a person abuses another person in word or deed, he must do Tshuva not only for the act itself, but for the cruelty inherent in such abusive behavior. How can a descendant of Avraham Avinu, the very pillar of Chesed, act in so cruel a manner to a fellow Jew? Where is the trait of compassion and sensitivity characteristic of the Jewish People? This applies not only to physical abuse but even to a degrading comment or public shaming from which the other person is unable to protect himself. The cruelty of taking advantage of someone who is powerless to defend himself is according to Rav Pam, more vicious than the actual abuse itself.
This acknowledgement and realization by Yosef’s brothers was their first step toward a complete Tshuva which would culminate with the reunification of Yaakov’s family and the birth of the Jewish Nation.