To know how to disguise is the knowledge of kings. — Cardinal De Richelieu
The last time Joseph’s brothers had seen him, they had thrown him into a pit and planned to sell him into slavery. Twenty-two years later, when famine brings them to Egypt, the Midrash says that the ten brothers entered Egypt through different entrances and searched for Joseph in the hopes of finding him. Benjamin, the youngest brother, and Joseph’s only full brother, stayed by their father Jacob’s side.
Joseph, who is now Viceroy of Egypt and who has taken personal charge of food distribution recognizes his long-lost brothers, but they don’t recognize him. He accuses them of being spies. They explain that they are all brothers, that one (Joseph) is missing and that the youngest, Benjamin, stayed at home.
On the surface, the reader, knowing that the brothers’ claims are true, may find Joseph’s accusations ludicrous. Joseph ignores the brothers’ arguments and uses his power to bully them into accepting his verdicts.
However, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) on Genesis 42:9 explains that Joseph had a strong, valid, and legally compelling argument.
Joseph accuses the brothers of two different espionage crimes: information gathering, by mixing with merchants and the local population; and reconnoitering, by entering the city from ten different entrances and surveying the city for weak points. They did not deny either act but gave a different rationale, that of searching for their missing brother.
The linchpin of the argument is that there is a youngest brother, Benjamin, still at home. Joseph argues that Benjamin must have also been a spy and went back to report on the interim findings. Therefore, the only way to prove the veracity of the brother’s argument would be for Joseph to cross-examine Benjamin personally and find witnesses to see if he had been in the city previously (presumably spying) or not. The brothers had no way to prove Benjamin had not been there, so therefore they had little choice but to submit to this judgment and eventually bring Benjamin down to Egypt to end the trial and clear their names.
Joseph’s stratagem is successful. The accused missing spy is brought to him, and Joseph continues the subterfuge leading to the eventual reconciliation of Jacob’s children.
May all intrigue in our lives have a happy ending.
On the marriage of Avivit Gandelman and Amit Kofman. Mazal Tov!