“You are spies! You have come to see the nakedness of the land!”
Why is this the accusation Yosef decides to fabricate? While there may be concrete, historical explanations to offer, it’s fascinating to note the literary elements that have run all through the story that Yosef combines as the story comes to a head.
There is revealing that brings revelation, but there is also revealing that brings deception.
Yosef’s accusation resonates first and foremost with his own traumatic experience with the brothers. They thought that to strip him of the coat that represented his special, preferred status, would reveal the absurdity of his dreams, and expose Yosef as a fraud. Instead, they were the ones who needed to deceive Yaakov into false recognition- “Recognize, please, is this your son’s coat or not?” This deception is echoed in the episode with Potiphar’s wife, where she too, aims to reveal, but ends up deceiving.
Any time a person seeks to force another to “reveal themselves”, from within their own perspective, their own needs, and their own fears, what inevitably ensues is violence, and deception.
Yosef, too, is trying to reveal. His accusation of the brothers is also a projection- if anyone is acting like a spy in this story, it is he, eavesdropping on conversations he’s not supposed to understand, hatching complicated plots, playing mind games. But the revealing he seeks is not one that he will violently impose on his brothers, but one that he will bring them to undertake themselves. Like Tamar, who used the same call to “recognize, please” as the brothers had earlier, but allowed Yehuda himself to make the decision to uncover his sin, Yosef’s ingenious schemes lead the brothers to reveal themselves. Only this can bring about a true revelation and a return to brotherhood.
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or less. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il