Staring at the Truth

After many years, they meet again. They had parted ways years ago, a parting that was the result of a unilateral decision taken by one side - the stronger side, the majority: The brothers of Yosef. Yosef had been unceremoniously cast aside, sold into slavery and apparently forgotten. A lifetime has passed; twenty-two years. How many times had Yosef thought of the words he would say to his brothers when they would meet again? Surely he had thought the scenario through. He knew, with near-certainty, that the moment would come, and here it was: Standing before him were people who were once his brothers. This came as no surprise to him, for Yosef had always excelled at long-term vision, analysis and planning; it was the short term, the here and now, that seems to have confounded him.

When he was young, he had told his brothers of his dreams, how their sheaves would bow to his.They thought it laughable, impossible, yet Yosef knew it would be so. They ridiculed his dreams and interpretations, and sold him as a slave. They would hear no more of his ludicrous predictions. They would have nothing more to do with him(or so they thought), and they would make certain that his dreams would never come true.

Nine years earlier, Pharoh had told Yosef another dream that centered around a vision of grain, and Yosef intuited that his own dream and Pharoh’s dream would merge. And so it was. Once again, Yosef was dressed in royal clothing. Once again, he was put in charge, and once again he was lauded for displaying wisdom beyond his years. He saw the prosperous years coming, but he knew they would be followed by hard and dry years that would bring famine – and, eventually, his brothers. Yosef knew that they would have no choice but to come seeking food, and they would prostrate themselves before him, literally bowing to his sheaves of grain. But what would he say when they stood before him?

Perhaps over those long years, years punctuated by solitude, years of separation from family, years as a slave and then a prisoner, Yosef had learned not to speak until spoken to. Servitude and slavery have a way of modifying one’s behavior. So, he waited. What would his brothers say? This would be the moment he had waited for, a moment of vindication, and Yosef must have imagined every detail of the scene: They will walk in and bow before him, the second most powerful man in Egypt. When they respectfully raise their gaze, they will realize that the man who holds their lives in his hands, the man before whom they are kneeling in deference and supplication, is none other than Yosef. The brothers will no doubt search for the right words to say to him. Will they speak words of apology, as if an apology could undo what they had done to him? Would they speak words of complete capitulation, words filled with humility and embarrassment? Would they find the words to say that Yosef had been right all along, and they had been so very wrong – about him, about his dreams, and about themselves? As they stand before him, Yosef waits for these words of vindication, every fiber of his being straining to listen for the nuances of meaning in their words. He waits with baited breath for his brothers to lift their eyes and see him, truly see him, for who he is.

But something goes terribly wrong. When the brothers do lift their eyes, they do not see their long-lost brother.They see a menacing Egyptian viceroy, a dangerous man with the power to decide their fate. There is no glimmer of recognition in their eyes, no quizzical look on their faces, as if the man before them is somehow familiar to them from a different time or place that they cannot quite recall. They do not speak; no words of reconciliation are uttered. There is nothing between them. They bow, as protocol dictates, and then rise before the powerful Egyptian ruler. If this was the moment Yosef had been waiting for, it proved to be tremendously anticlimactic and completely unsatisfactory – or even worse.

Years earlier, when the brothers had sold Yosef, they had denied his dreams and denied his greatness. Now, they denied his very existence. In a sense,their failure to recognize him may have been worse than the sale itself. Years earlier, they denied the dreams as a possibility; now, as the (first) dream comes to fruition, the brothers seem oblivious to the magnitude of what is happening. When they say nothing, Yosef understands the sad truth: For his brothers, the dreams were not prophetic; they were, and still are, fantasy. In their minds Yosef had always been, and would always be, a slave. In their minds, they had done the right thing by selling him into slavery, for they had merely “returned” him to his rightful station. His brothers have no words for him - not a word of reconciliation, regret or even any words with which to explain their behavior, only silence. They have come for food, and nothing more. They treat him like a stranger.

Yosef returns the strangeness and estrangement with his distant, aloof tone. On the other hand he asks personal questions about their family: Where are they from? How many siblings are they? Is their father well? A strange dance begins, in which only one side hears the music, only one side knows the choreography, only one side moves with any semblance of logic. From the brothers’ perspective, Yosef is perplexing, strange and mysterious. They do not anticipate any of his moves, do not understand what he is doing, fail to see what he wants, and most importantly, they never guess his identity. And therein lies the rub:Why are they never able to deduce the identity of their tormentor?

The brothers were so entrenched in their world-view, a view that saw Yosef as an inferior, that they were unable to recognize him – even when he stood right in front of them and asked about their father and their long-lost brother.Such is the nature of hatred: It causes you to devalue the object of your hatred, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The brothers could not see Yosef; their hatred and jealousy blinded them to his true value. In their eyes, he was but a slave and would never amount to anything more than that. When Yosef actually stands before them in his royal garb, wielding unsurpassed power and influence, when they come face to face with the man revered and respected by all of Egypt, when they themselves bow to him and watch his dreams comes true, they are incapable of recognition.

Hatred causes blindness. A cold, logical analysis should have brought the brothers to the obvious conclusion that the only person who would care so much about their family, who would ask to see Binyamin, who would express concern for their father’s health, was Yosef. But the brothers were so blinded by their hatred that they could not see the truth staring right at them. And that is the real tragedy of Yosef’s life.

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