This week’s Torah portion begins right after Benjamin has been caught red-handed with Joseph’s silver cup. The brothers agreed that whoever had the cup would stay behind as Joseph’s slave. They are shocked to learn the cup is in Benjamin’s pack. This causes a big problem with their promise to bring Benjamin home to their father.
Joseph had the silver cup placed in Benjamin’s pack as a test of his brothers. He needed to know if the brothers were really repentant for what they had done to Joseph so many years before. He deliberately placed them in a similar situation. Would they let their younger brother – the most favored son of their father – be forced into slavery and cause their father heart-break? Would they make things easier on themselves at the expense of their father and brother?
It is interesting to note that the brother who stepped up to speak to Joseph was not the firstborn or oldest son. It was not even the second or third son, but the fourth oldest, Judah. The same brother who suggested selling Joseph into slavery was the one who now pleaded to be enslaved in Benjamin’s place. The 10 brothers could have accepted Joseph’s ruling and walked away, but Judah wouldn’t let that happen. Without hesitation, he challenged the most powerful man in the country to change his declared punishment. He begs Joseph to take him in his brother’s place. He had told his father that he would guarantee Benjamin’s safety. If anything happened to Benjamin, he would bear the guilt for life. This willingness to sacrifice himself for his brother is a type and shadow of Judah’s greatest descendant, Yeshua Ha’Mashiach sacrificing himself almost 2000 years later.
There is another parallel in Judah being at the forefront of the reconciliation with Joseph. In Ezekiel, the prophecy of the two sticks being made one reconciles the house of Judah with the house of Joseph. This leads to a period of safety and prosperity for all the tribes of Israel. Judah’s example to Joseph in Egypt led to the whole family of Israel being united in a period of safety and prosperity.
Once Joseph knows his brothers have truly repented, he begins to cry. He makes all of his servants leave, including his translator. He then breaks down into deep sobs that are loud enough to be heard by all the servants outside the room. The terrified brothers must not have known what was about to happen. The last thing any of them ever expected was Joseph’s startling admission of his identity. The text says they were too dumbfounded to speak. The word translated as dumbfounded can more accurately be described as unable to speak due to dismay or terror. They knew that Joseph had the power to enslave them, kill them, or worse. He would also be justified in doing so. They waited to hear what their fate would be. Despite their fears, Joseph is not angry with them. Instead he tells them not to be sad or angry with themselves. He informs them that his being sold into slavery was part of God’s plan. He was sent ahead to Egypt to prepare for just this time. Without him being in position in Egypt, the house of Israel would have died out in Canaan without fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham.
When Pharoah heard about Joseph’s family, he offered them the best land in Egypt – Goshen. It is an area in the Nile delta with good grazing land for their herds. Interestingly, Joseph uses two different words for “to stay” when discussing Israel’s relocation to Egypt. When talking to his brothers, Joseph uses the word lashevet meaning a long stay. He is telling them they may be there for quite a while. When speaking to Pharoah about giving them land in Goshen, he uses the word lagur, meaning to sojourn. To sojourn means a shorter stay before moving on. This use of lagur matches the prophecy given to Abraham that his descendants will be sojourners in a land that was not their own.
The famine causes the people of Egypt to trade their livestock, their land, and eventually themselves to Pharoah for food. This sets the stage for the fulfillment of another part of the prophecy – slavery.