“Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone withdraw from me!’ So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers” Genesis 45:1


One of the most dramatic events in the Torah is when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. The brothers had previously thrown Joseph in a pit and sold him into slavery. He rebuilds his life in Egypt over the years to become second-in-command to Pharaoh.

Initially, he hides his identity from his brothers and when Judah pleads with Joseph not to take Benjamin as prisoner, Joseph is overcome with emotion. He comes out and tells them, “I am Joseph”. One of the questions that arises is what propelled Joseph to reveal himself? Was it something in Judah’s eloquent speech or something else? There are three interesting factors to Joseph’s decision to reveal himself.

Firstly, Nachmanides (1194-1270) suggests that Joseph calculates and engineers the fulfilment of his prophecies. Joseph wants to actualise the dreams about the sheaves of grain and celestial bodies bowing towards him, and he arranges for the family members to come to him (Nachmanides on Genesis 42:9).

Secondly, Abarbanel (1437–1508) suggests that Joseph tests his brothers to see if they still harboured hatred and discriminated against Rachel’s sons. “Even after Joseph tested his brothers by accusing them of spying, he was still not certain whether they loved Benjamin or whether they still hated Rachel’s children, so he focused on Benjamin to see whether they would try to save him” (Abarbanel on Genesis 42:7).

Most importantly, the third reason for Joseph revealing himself is shown when Judah becomes a guarantor and accepts responsibility for bringing Benjamin back to Jacob. Judah explains to Joseph, “Now your servant has pledged himself for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I shall stand guilty before my father forever’” (Genesis 44:34). The Hebrew word for guarantor (arav) is connected to a similar root word, ayin-rav-bet, which means “mixed-up” and responsibility is shared. The linguistics are similar to the important talmudic phrase that “each Jewish person is a guarantor for one another” (Shevuot, 39a).

In conclusion, Joseph reveals himself after he witnesses Judah and his brothers’ changed ways, and he realises that they have made amends. This is perhaps the strongest way of demonstrating repentance; the way to show a change of character is to be in a similar 
situation and to make a better choice (Maimonides,Laws of Repentance 2:1).


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