In this parsha we read about the encounter of Yosef and his brothers. A few questions are asked about it. First of all, why did Yosef not reveal who he is right away? Even if he wanted to punish his brothers for selling him, why did his father have to suffer? In truth there seems to be no reason why Yosef did not send a message to his father right after he became second to the king, and spare Yakov the anguish of nine extra years. Why did Yosef accuse his brothers of being spies? He had to at least have some pretext for this. Why did Yosef demand that the brothers bring Binyamin? Why did Yosef choose Shimon to be taken as a hostage while the brothers are absent? Why did not Yosef’s brothers recognize him, especially during the second visit, when he turned out to know so much about them?
Before we start answering the questions, let’s discuss a very important principle regarding prophesy. The prophetic message was usually given not just as a prediction for the future. In truth, it was a kind of “road map” for what is recipients are supposed to do. It gave us guidelines regarding the future history of our people, and it was certainly expected that the prophet himself would follow these guiding principles. An example could be brought from the coronation of Shlomo, son of Dovid. The prophet Noson foretold that Shlomo will be the next king of Israel. At the end of Dovid’s life, his other son, Adoniyahu, used the opportunity when his father was weak and bedridden to try to get himself recognized as Dovid’s successor. Noson did not waste any time. He immediately sent Shlomo’s mother to Dovid and went himself to bring the king into action. When he recognized the danger, Dovid acted immediately and ordered Shlomo to be anointed during he own lifetime!
One could think that all of this was unnecessary. After all, if Hashem wants Shlomo to be the next king, He will certainly find ways to bring this about. However, as we mentioned, Noson knew that this prophesy was revealed to him for a reason, not just to foretell the future. He therefore did everything in his power to bring about the fulfillment of his own prophesy.
Regarding our parsha, the Ramban (42:9) and the GR”A (in Aderes Eliyahu 42:9) explain that Yosef also behaved according to his own prophesy. He certainly knew that Yakov’s family is supposed to be in exile in a foreign land. When he was sold to Egypt and ended up becoming second to the king, it became clear that this is the country where the exile will take place. He knew from Pharaoh’s dream, that there will soon be a terrible famine, which will affect also the nearby land of Canaan. So it seemed most likely that during this time his father will descend to Egypt together with the rest of the family.
According to Yosef’s own prophetic dreams, the sequence of events was supposed to be: that first the eleven brothers come and bow down before him, and then the entire family of Yakov will come. When Yosef recognized his brothers he realized that even the first prophesy was not yet fulfilled, since Benyamin was not with them. Yosef started looking for an excuse in order to get the brothers to bring Benyamin. Our sages (Bereishis Raba, 91:6) teach us that the ten brothers had entered Egypt through different gates in order not to arise suspicion. After all, they were all tall and strong and if they came together they may have been suspect – why would so many strong people come together, if not for attacking? Moreover, they wanted to see where Yosef might be, if he is still alive. Since Yosef expected their coming, he had given the gatekeepers a description of his brothers and asked them to warn him as soon as they arrive. As soon as they came, he closed all other food distribution centers except his own, so that they will be forced to all come to him. When they showed up, he started accusing them: why did you all enter through different gates? Why are such a large group of strong men coming here? What were you searching for in the city? They answered that they are all brothers and their might is genetic. They always travel together except for the youngest son, who stayed with their elderly father.
Yosef, acting according to his prophetic dreams, now had an excuse to demand the bringing of Benyamin. This way their words could be verified. To make sure this happens quickly, he kept Shimon with him. He had other reasons for detaining Shimon. According to our sages (Bereishis Raba 84, 16) Shimon was the one who pushed him into the pit before he was sold. Moreover, Shimon and Levi were the two brothers who were very strong and cunning when acting in concert, and Yosef was afraid to let them stay together. Throughout all this time and even after the brothers came back, it did not occur to them that the viceroy they spoke to is Yosef. The reason was that they he changed over time, and he also grew a beard. The brothers also changed but some of them had beards before they parted from Yosef. Besides, Yosef expected them to come, and so he had no problems recognizing them, while they did not even think that their brother, sold into slavery, could become the second to the king.
Once the brothers brought Binyamin, Yosef had just one last test in store for them. Do they hate Binyamin the same way they hated Yosef, or are they going to protect him? The dialogue between Yosef and Yehuda, described in the beginning of the next parsha, proved that the brothers loved Binyamin and were ready to protect him. Yehuda was willing to become a slave to enable Binyamin to return to Yakov! Now that the time has come to reveal himself, Yosef could not hold on any longer, and told them who he is.
Ultimately, the whole story of Yosef and his brothers was also a sign to the later generations. The separation of Yosef, the verbal fight between Yosef and Yehuda, and the unification that followed were a prelude to the future split between the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yosef and their reuniting in the end of days. In the future the Jewish people will again be united with their lost brother Yosef – the ten tribes. Two Moshiachs will come to redeem our nation, Moshiach ben Ephraim from Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid from Yehuda. The two nations will combine into one and “Ephraim will not envy Yehuda and Yehuda will not fight Ephraim” (Yeshiyahu 11:13). “And I will make them into one nation and one king will rule over them” (Yehezkel 37:22)!