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David Curwin
David Curwin

Between Miketz and Vayigash

The break between Miketz and Vayigash is certainly full of dramatic tension. What will happen to the brothers in Egypt?

But aside from the cliffhanger, what else is contributed by the break between the verses?

Aviva Zornberg, in her book Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, points out that after the brothers are accused of stealing the goblet, there are several different claims about what the proper response should be.

In the end of Miketz, after the initial accusation, the brothers first say that the guilty one should die, and the rest should become slaves (Bereshit 44:9).

The steward then replies, saying that no, the guilty will become a slave, and the rest will go free (Bereshit 44:10).

After the goblet is found in Binyamin’s sack, and Yosef directly confronts them, Yehuda changes his plea. Now he says that all of the brothers should become slaves (Bereshit 44:16).

As the steward previously did, Yosef again says that only the guilty one should become a slave, and the rest should go free (Bereshit 44:17).

Then we have Yehuda’s long speech to Yosef, opening Parashat Vayigash. Yehuda doesn’t actually discuss the goblet at all, but retells the story of his family. And at the end, Yehuda one last time changes his appeal: this time he says that he himself should be the slave, and Binyamin should go free with the other brothers (Bereshit 44:33).

This final request is what causes Yosef to break down and reveal himself to his brothers. What was it in Yehuda’s words that led to this reversal?

There are many suggested answers, and Zornberg covers a number of them in her book. I would like to offer my own approach.

Yehuda’s changing his offer three times shows the extreme pressure he is in at the moment. Not sure what will work, he consistently changes tactics. This emotional state is also evident in his statement to Yosef, after the goblet is discovered: “God has uncovered the crime of your servants.” (Bereshit 44:16).

I think this is the key to understanding the later developments. It’s a strange thing for him to say. Why bring God into this? Shouldn’t he say that Yosef has uncovered the crime? And why “your servants”?

As Seforno points out in his commentary on this verse, Yehuda is not actually talking about the goblet at all. He’s confessing – either intentionally or inadvertently – to a much earlier crime, the sale of Yosef. It shouldn’t be of interest to this Egyptian official, but Yehuda can’t help but blurt it out while under such stress.

Yosef sees that Yehuda is beginning to take responsibility. But if Yehuda realizes that this whole ordeal is not about the goblet, but the sale of Yosef, will he recognize that Binyamin should not suffer (since he wasn’t involved in the sale)?

And so finally, at the end of Yehuda’s long speech, he acknowledges that. Not only does he say that Binyamin should be released, but Yehuda recognizes, that as the initiator of Yosef’s sale into slavery, he (Yehuda) is the one deserving of becoming a slave.

Once Yosef hears Yehuda take full responsibility for the events of the past, is he willing to move on, and reunite with his brothers in full forgiveness.

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website balashon.com since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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