Traumatic memories are not forgotten, nor should they be, but they can be sweetened, appropriated, and transformed. Within the palpable movement from estrangement to brotherhood occurring in chapter 43, this transformation also takes place in mysterious ways.
Yosef, who is referred to simply as ‘the man’ in the beginning of the chapter, invites the brothers into his home by chapter’s end. And though the brothers are wary of his invitation the chapter closes with a merry scene of eating and drinking together to the point of inebriation. This joint meal is more than a counterpoint to Yosef’s initial harsh words to the brothers. It resonates with an earlier meal the brothers enjoyed together, at which Yosef was only present via his cries for help from the pit. Yosef reshapes this memory, at once winking at the hierarchy of the brothers by arranging them in order of age, and at the same time overturning that hierarchy by giving the youngest brother the largest portion.
The meal, the text emphasizes, happens in the context of the offering (mincha) the brothers bring Yosef, given them by Yaakov. Yaakov has experience with preparing such offerings, for this is what he did in the hopes of appeasing his brother after a 20 year estrangement. Now, after 20 years(!), the brothers, who learned the lesson of Esav’s mistake, are being sent with an offering to appease Yosef. It’s hard to believe that Yaakov has this in mind, but the associations of the text speak for themselves, and one final association is the most powerful of all. The spices that Yaakov sweetens with a side dish of honey and fruits are exactly those carried by the merchants who carried Yosef down to Egypt. The scents of those awful first moments of rejection and uncertainty are now re-associated with the brothers wish to appease and apologize. Yosef certainly didn’t need the honey to appreciate the sweetness of the moment.
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