Friday, December 14, 2007

Yosef's Plan

Brotherly Help

Giving bread is noble. Giving someone himself is greater than that. Yosef saw a subtle opportunity before him. Beneath providing the brothers with food was Yosef's plan to give them something more. If he had appeared sight unseen in his old home or had he revealed himself when the brothers arrived in Egypt the chance could have been lost forever.

The brothers were living with the unique combination of guilt and denial that allows people to function after they've done something wrong. They knew what they'd done and lived on with the lies they created. Had Yosef confronted them cold, they would probably have been overwhelmed by being so exposed and reacted with irrational, embarrassed attempts to push away the incriminating reality that Yosef represented. And if they did apologize or repent, how could such reconciliation or such repentance be real?

Had he confronted them immediately Yosef and the brothers would have still wondered if they would do the same thing again, given the chance. The question wouldn't go away. But once the brothers were exposed, their self-esteem would never return.

Because he was human what the brothers did to Yosef hurt him. But worse than the hurt was the loneliness. Even being king cannot replace broken familial bonds. Despite his anger, the part of Yosef that missed his family won out. He wondered if there could be reconciliation. Or would the brothers be too ashamed to make up? Would they be able to look him in the eye, to look themselves in the mirror? A potential answer to these questions presented itself when Yosef’s brothers appeared before him. That meeting paved a path to peace.

He insisted that they were spies even after they presented the plausible story of being a family with one brother missing and one left at home. Why doesn't Yosef agree to check out their alibi by letting them bring the youngest brother? The answer is that accusing them of being spies guaranteed that they wouldn't talk to anyone on their journey home. Had he pulled back on the spy angle they could have small talked with an Egyptian at the inn going home (a six-day journey*) and mentioned the viceroy’s demands. Knowing where Yosef came from, an Egyptian could have told the brothers the story of this youngster from Canaan's emergence to power. They would have figured out that this was Yosef and his plan would have been foiled. But the spy allegation guaranteed the brothers’ insulation until the right moment.

Yosef’s plan hinged on the fact that the brothers said that they were a family. He remembered how they had once they lost a certain family member with ostensible ease. When they’d plotted against Yosef, they continuously referred to him as "him." They told their father that "his son" was gone. Yosef hoped to reveal that they now actually cared about losing a brother. He wanted them to show it rather than simply say it. He wanted and needed to see it, and he wanted them to see it for their own sake.

It was a delicate proposition, but Yosef wanted the change in the brothers to emerge holistically. In the end Yosef proved that his brothers cared and had grown into a family. This restoration of self-esteem to the brothers earned placement before even respect for his father. That's why Yosef didn’t go home or send word early on.

May G-d bless us to succeed in giving the gift of self to others and ourselves. May a real sense of brotherhood lead us to personal and national redemption. May the story of Yosef and his brothers inspire us to return to G-d, to each other and ourselves.


No comments: