Consider the following scenario: a group of brothers do not get on. One of their number continually emphasises his own importance at the expense of everybody else. It gets to the point where he insists on sharing his dreams with the rest of the group, the content of which only serves to increase the animosity between them. Eventually, the dreams get even more delusional in their scope to the point where the brothers’ feel seriously threatened and have him sold into slavery, banishment and exile. Thirteen years later, the brothers come face to face with their brother, albeit unknowingly.
Rav Avigdor Nevenzahl shlita asks a question that is beautiful in its simplicity. How is it that the brothers do not recognise him? The verses are replete with references of ‘brothers’ as well as ‘the brothers of Yosef’. The viceroy regularly invokes the Divine as his authority. Yosef asks after their father on several occasions. The second time they go down to Egypt, after confessing that they ‘somehow’ ended up with the money they had paid the first time, they are invited to lunch. Yosef specifically asks his chief of staff to slaughter an animal for the purpose of the feast. If that was enough, the brothers receive gifts from Yosef, and they end up getting drunk together.
One would think that any three of these hints would be enough for the brothers to realise that they were standing in front of their brother. Why then did this charade continue until Yosef had to explicitly reveal his identity?
Rav Nevenzahl explains that the brothers were so set in their assessment that Yosef had been a threat to them and their familial mission, that they were totally unprepared for the possibility of Yosef having risen to the heights that he had. Being prisoners of their own logic, the many hints and strange behaviours passed them by.
This inability to see past one’s own prejudices and stereotypes remains one of the biggest challenges we face as individuals. Can we countenance being wrong? Even/especially when we are told by those who know better? Ultimately, the answer to that question will dictate the extent to which we succeed in our own self-introspection and self-improvement