In Parshat Miketz (Breisheet 42:5-9) we read:
B’nai Yisrael came to buy among the others who came, for there was famine in the Land of C’naan. Yosef was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land. Yosef’s brothers came and prostrated themselves to him with their faces to the ground. Yosef saw his brothers and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger to them. He spoke harshly to them and said to them, “Where did you come from?” They said, “From the land of C’naan to buy food.” Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Yosef remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies.” “You have come to see where the land is exposed.”
Why did the brothers add that they were there to buy food? The ruler didn’t ask why they came, only where they came from. It was pretty obvious why they were there as everyone who came to Egypt at that time was looking for food.
One reason could be that the brothers felt guilty for leaving home, even for a short period of time since leaving the Land of C’naan was a big deal in those days especially since the forefathers only left when it was absolutely necessary.
Why did Yosef accuse them of being spies?
The fact that they gave more of an explanation than necessary could lead one to believe that they were making up a story. Yosef used this to his advantage as Kli Yakar points out: Yosef was worried that now that the brothers were in Egypt, they would start looking for him as they knew that he was sold to Egypt. Yosef didn’t want to take a chance where they would start asking around and end up finding out who he really was, therefore he accused them of being spies to make sure that they wouldn’t talk to anyone.
Did the brothers really want to find Yosef? We will never know for sure. They were embarrassed about what happened and would probably have preferred to stay in C’naan rather than having to face him again. However, in the end it worked out for the best because the brothers had an opportunity to do Tshuva (repent), Yosef was able to accept their apology and explain that it was all part of God’s plan and Yaakov was able to be reunited with his long lost son.
Even though it is best to stay in the Land of Israel, sometimes it is necessary to leave such as in the case of a famine where there is really nothing to eat.
May we be blessed with prosperity in the Land of Israel so that nobody will have to be forced to leave because they don’t have enough food.