The Torah’s portrayal of Yehuda’s conversation with Yoseph does not even remotely compare to the caustic exchange of accusations as portrayed in the Midrash:
. אָמַר לוֹ יְהוּדָה, עַכְשָׁו אֲנִי אֵצֵא וְאֶצְבַּע כָּל שְׁוָקִים שֶׁבְּמִצְרַיִם בַּדָּם. אָמַר לוֹ יוֹסֵף, צַבָּעִים הֱיִיתֶם מִימֵיכֶם, שֶׁצְּבַעְתֶּם כְּתֹנֶת אֲחִיכֶם בַּדָּם וַאֲמַרְתֶּם לַאֲבִיכֶם טָרֹף טֹרַף.
“Yehuda said ‘I shall go out and dye the marketplaces of Egypt in blood.’ Yoseph replied,’All your life you have long been dying things in blood, like when you dyed your brother’s coat of many colors in blood and then told your father: (Yoseph was) torn to pieces”’ (Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis, 5:10).
If you thought this exchange was intense, according to the Midrash, it gets even more personal. In the Torah it states that Yehuda started his appeal to Yoseph with this flattering phrase: כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה “You are the equal of Pharaoh” (Bereishis, 44:18). However, Midrash Tanchuma takes it to be anything but flattering:
כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה, כְּשֵׁם שֶׁפַּרְעֹה רַבְּךָ אוֹהֵב נָשִׁים וּמְחַמְּדָן, כָּךְ אַתָּה רָאִיתָ לְבִנְיָמִין שֶׁהוּא יְפֵה תֹאַר וְאַתָּה מְחַמְּדוֹ לִהְיוֹת לְךָ לְעֶבֶד.
“Your master, Pharaoh, loved women and wanted to possess them, and so you longed to have Binyamin as your servant, when you saw how handsome he was” (Ibid, 5:2).
Yoseph finds a way to share his most painful memories
By pretending to use his magic goblet to “see” into Yehuda’s past, Yoseph found a way to say anything he wanted without revealing his identity. High on his agenda was highlighting Yehuda’s hypocrisy of caring so much for Binyamin’s welfare while selling him (Yoseph) into slavery:
אָמַר לוֹ יוֹסֵף, יְהוּדָה, לָמָּה אַתָּה דַבְּרָן מִכָּל אַחֶיךָ, וַאֲנִי רוֹאֶה בַגָּבִיעַ שֶׁיֵּשׁ בְּאַחֶיךָ גְּדוֹלִים מִמְּךָ … אָמַר לוֹ: …, בִּשְׁבִיל הָעַרְבוּת שֶׁעָרַבְתִּי אוֹתוֹ. אָמַר לוֹ: מִפְּנֵי מָה לֹא עָרַבְתָּ אֶת אָחִיךָ כְּשֶׁמְּכַרְתֶּם אוֹתוֹ לַיִּשְׁמְעֵאלִים בְּעֶשְׂרִים כָּסֶף, וְצִעַרְתָּ אֶת אָבִיךָ הַזָּקֵן וְאָמַרְתָּ לוֹ טָרֹף טֹרַף יוֹסֵף
“Yoseph told him, ‘why are you the spokesman for your brothers, I see by way of my goblet that you have older brothers’,.. Yehuda replied: …’because I am the guarantor for my brother’. (Yoseph responded) ‘Why were you not a guarantor for the brother you sold to the Midyanites for twenty pieces of silver, and you caused anguish to your father by telling him ‘Yoseph was torn to pieces’” (Ibid, 5:5)
Trauma and Shame
The Midrash is portraying critical elements of a group therapy session. Yehuda was forced to confront all the trauma and shame that he and his brothers caused Yoseph to experience. If this very difficult process is successful, it inevitably brings a deep sense of shame to the ones who caused the trauma. As we mentioned, Yoseph was able to bring up the trauma without revealing his identity. However, once Yoseph reveals his identity, the brothers’ feelings of shame will be greatly exacerbated.* Yehuda and his brothers needed a way to process their shame. This can only come about if their confrontation with Yoseph ends with the knowledge that Yoseph truly forgave them. Yoseph has to close the wounds that he opened.
Two paradigms for this ultimate confrontation
The Midrash chooses two models to draw from – when a person meets God at the end of life and when the Jewish People meet God at the end of days. In both instances, individuals or the entire Jewish People are coping with great shame. Many have heard of the Midrash that on the day of judgment every Jew will be as speechless as when Yoseph revealed himself to his brothers. As with the brothers, it is a confrontation with the ultimate truth. No excuses can be offered (Midrash Rabbah Bereishis 83:11** Midrash Tanchuma Vayigash, 5:12***).
What is the model for reconciliation? What is the way forward? The Midrash employs a novel interpretation of Yirmiyahu’s stirring words: בִּבְכִ֣י יָבֹ֗אוּ (At the end of days) God will) “bring back the Jews with tears” (Yirmiyahu 31:19). Not the tears of the Jewish People – God’s tears. When God reveals Himself to Mankind, God will cry for having put the Jewish People through such torment in Exile. Even though the Jews brought it upon themselves through their misdeeds. Yoseph too had to show his complete forgiveness by crying from the depth of his heart – even though the brothers brought their misery upon themselves:
כֵּיוָן שֶׁרָאָה יוֹסֵף שֶׁהָיְתָה לָהֶם בּוּשָׁה גְדוֹלָה, אָמַר לָהֶן, גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי, וַיִּגָּשׁוּ. וְכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד הָיָה מְנַשְּׁקוֹ וּבוֹכֶה עָלָיו…כְשֵׁם שֶׁלֹּא פִיֵּס יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ בִּכְיָה, כָּךְ כְּשֶׁיִּגְאַל הַקָּבָּ’ה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִתּוֹךְ בִּכְיָה
“When Yoseph witnessed the brothers’ deep shame he asked each (brother) to come forward. As each came close, Yoseph kissed them and cried over them. Just as Yoseph appeased his brothers with crying, at the final redemption, God will appease the Jewish People with crying” (Ibid 5:15).
The heartfelt tears of Joseph communicated, like no words could, that all is forgiven. Yoseph was not interested in being right. His tears were actually tears of joy. The confrontation is over. He bears no grudge. It’s time for Yoseph to complete the mission that he now understood was driving his unimaginable rise to power. כִּ֣י לְמִֽחְיָ֔ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֱלֹקים לִפְנֵיכֶֽם “To feed you is the reason God sent me before you” (Bereishis 45:5). Yoseph had to sustain his family through the crippling famine and sustain the whole world. Of course, there was another critical reason events unfolded in this way. Jewish destiny dictated that Yaakov and his family had to be brought down to Egypt in order to undergo the excruciatingly painful, nation forming experience of slavery.
* Perhaps this explains why the brothers tried to kill Yoseph after he reveals his true identity. Yoseph has to be saved by angels.(Midrash Tanchuma Bereishis, 5:14).
**רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אָמַר אוֹי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם הַדִּין אוֹי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם הַתּוֹכֵחָה, וּמַה יּוֹסֵף הַצַּדִּיק שֶׁהוּא בָּשָׂר וָדָם כְּשֶׁהוֹכִיחַ אֶת אֶחָיו לֹא יָכְלוּ לַעֲמֹד בְּתוֹכַחְתּוֹ, הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא שֶׁהוּא דַּיָן וּבַעַל דִּין וְיוֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא דִּין וְדָן כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד, עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה שֶׁאֵין כָּל בָּשָׂר וָדָם יְכוֹלִים לַעֲמֹד לְפָנָ
***אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן, וַי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם הַדִּין, וַי לָנוּ מִיּוֹם תּוֹכֵחָה. וּמָה, יוֹסֵף כְּשֶׁאָמַר לְאֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף, פָּרְחָה נִשְׁמָתָן. כְּשֶׁעוֹמֵד הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לָדִין דִּכְתִיב בֵּיהּ (מלאכי ג, ב) וּמִי מְכַלְכֵּל אֶת יוֹם בּוֹאוֹ וּמִי הָעוֹמֵד בְּהֵרָאוֹתוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בּוֹ כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי הָאָדָם וָחָי (שמות לג, כ) עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה, וּמַה זֶה נִבְהֲלוּ אֶחָיו מִפָּנָיו כְּשֶׁיָּבוֹא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לִתְבֹּעַ עֶלְבּוֹן הַמִּצְוֹת וּפִשְׁעָהּ שֶׁל תּוֹרָה, עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה.