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Parshat Vayigash: The brothers recognized Joseph all along

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In my notes on Parshat Miketz I left unanswered the question: How could it be that Joseph recognized his brothers, yet not one of his brothers recognized him?

The answer is obvious if we read carefully the opening of Parshat Vayigash.

Indeed, I believe the brothers recognized Joseph instantly. How could they not? But they felt paralyzed in his presence, and perhaps hoped, against all odds, that Joseph did not recognize them. After what they had done to him, the best strategy would be silence, especially if Joseph chose not to voice his recognition. Indeed, it was even likely that Joseph – with few fond memories of his youth – chose to exult totally in his Egyptian glory and would not lower himself to acknowledge any kinship with this Canaanite riff-raff.

And so, an elaborate charade ensues in which each side knows that the other side knows, yet neither side blinks.

Things change in Vayigash. The opening verses feature Judah, the natural leader, the family lion, addressing Zaphenat Paneah. In the opening verse alone he refers to Joseph as ‘my master” and himself as ‘your slave’ four times. This obsequiousness is totally out of character for Judah. And then in the tenth verse of the parsha (Genesis 44:27) he ratchets the sycophancy up a quantum notch; ויאמר עבדך אבי אלינו “And your slave our father said to us …” It is one thing for Judah, perched on the hot seat, to abject himself before Egypt’s viceroy. It is quite another to needlessly degrade his absent father in the same language.

What in fact is happening here is Judah communicating in code to Joseph. By classifying himself (and his brothers) as well as their father as Joseph’s slaves he is referencing Joseph’s childhood dreams and declaring the validity and veracity of those........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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