In this week’s parsha, we continue the riveting saga of Joseph and his brothers. We see in today’s Torah portion the quick and almost incredible rise of Joseph from forgotten prisoner to the second in command in all of Egypt. And he meets his brothers. We are told, in this dramatic passage: Joseph recognized his brothers but they didn’t recognize him.
How could that be?
Well, obviously, the brothers were not expecting to see Joseph. They assumed that he was a slave somewhere in Egypt. If you’re not expecting to see someone in a completely different context, it would be easy not to recognize them. That’s one possible explanation.
There’s also the dramatically different look that Joseph now has. His hair has been cut. He wears robes of fine linen. He has gold chains around his neck. On his finger is the royal signet ring. (He’d fit right in in Florida!) Joseph even has an Egyptian name: TSOFENAT PANEAKH. He’s thoroughly blended into Egyptian life.
These are all good reasons why the brothers wouldn’t recognize Joseph, and yet I think that there might be another reason, one not quite so literal.
Perhaps the brothers don’t recognize Joseph because he has changed so much, not ONLY on the outside which is obvious but also on the inside, which is not visible. Perhaps the parsha is telling us that Joseph has now become the true tsaddik that he was meant to be. He has learned from his mistakes, and he has been not only educated by those mistakes but also HUMBLED.
Where’s the evidence for that?
Well, think about what he tells Pharaoh when Pharaoh asks him about his ability to interpret dreams. Joseph tells him that it is not he, but rather GOD, who interprets those dreams for him. If you recall years back when Joseph tells his brothers of his dreams, he does not give any credit to anyone other than himself. So that’s a big change.
There’s other evidence, too. Remember that the brothers all bow down to Joseph. KEEP IN MIND THAT THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HE HAD PREDICTED YEARS AGO THROUGH HIS DREAM. So what COULD HE have said? What would YOU have said to them at that moment? I think many of us would have been tempted to say: “SEE!! I told you guys!! This is just what I said would happen!! HOW COOL!! In your faces!!”
But he doesn’t say any of that.
Why does he refrain? I think Joseph refrains because he does not want to humiliate his brothers. He chooses not to lord his power over them because he himself has been so far down. Because he himself has lived through slavery and prison and the loss of his freedom. He was his father’s favorite, but where did that get him? He had the beautiful coat, but it was only a magnet for his brothers’ resentment. He now realizes that what matters is what he has learned, what he has gained on this spiritual journey.
Joseph has grown up.