Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Vayigash 5778
Emotional Truth: Becoming Brothers Once Again
As the story of Yosef and his bothers nears its dramatic conclusion, the brothers are in deep trouble. Accused of theft, and seemingly caught “red handed,” their future looks bleak. Technically, they can return home, leaving Binyamin behind; in truth, they cannot return to their father without him. Parashat Vayigash begins as Yehuda delivers a dramatic, impassioned speech, in which he recounts recent history. But before we turn to Yehuda’s version of the events, let us first recap the preceding chapters from a more dispassionate perspective.
The story of Yosef and his brothers begins with Yaakov’s favoritism, which fans the flames of the brother’s jealousy and hatred. They plan to kill him, and eventually sell him into slavery. The ensuing story of Yosef’s life in Egypt includes enslavement, a spurned seductress, incarceration in a dungeon, and his meteoric rise to the second-highest position in Egypt. Like the mythical phoenix, Yosef rises from being an imprisoned servant to unimaginable power. He tells Pharaoh what the future holds, and formulates a plan to protect the Egyptian economy and to establish the empire’s superpower status in the time of regional upheaval that will soon begin. Yosef is placed in charge of this massive, long-range project, and as a result, of the entire population of Egypt during a severe seven-year famine (Bereishit 41:37-42).
The brothers and Yosef have become strangers; neither knows what has happened to the other. They suffer not only from geographical distance, but from emotional distance as well. The brothers are unaware of any of the things that happened to Yosef in Egypt; Yosef is equally in the dark as to the experience of the brothers, the residual effect of what they had done to him, or the devastating effect upon their father Yaakov. (Bereishit 37:31-36, also 42:36 & 43:1-14) And so, when Yosef and his brothers finally meet in Egypt, they carry entirely different sets of “emotional baggage” which, although related, are essentially different. Yosef is the ruler of the land, a man of tremendous power - who nevertheless sees himself as the victim. The brothers know nothing of his feelings or experiences; they don’t even know who he is – and Yosef knows equally little about the brother’s lives and feelings, whether repressed or conscious, since they parted ways decades earlier.
Yosef proceeds to put the brothers through a number of strange and difficult tasks (Bereishit 42:7 – 44:17). In all likelihood, these tasks are meant to clarify a number of things for Yosef. First, the brothers’ reaction to having sold him into slavery: To what degree do they regret what they had done, and where does their father Yaakov fit into the entire episode? Was he part of the plot? Had he died of a broken heart?). Yosef’s unstated agenda may have been to clarify his brothers’ reactions to the outrage they had perpetrated against him, and then to prod them into coming to terms with their responsibility for selling him into slavery.
When the brothers arrive in Egypt, they are immediately on the defensive, for a simple reason: Yosef recognizes them, and he lashes out. They are under attack, but have no idea why. Yosef immediately accuses them of being spies. They wilt under pressure, and respond in a manner that makes them seem guilty: They speak too much, offer too much information. They were asked only one question, “Where are you from,” and the only response necessary was “From the Land of Canaan.” Instead, they offer proclamations: They claim to be innocent, honorable men who are only seeking food. The superfluous claims are important to them; precisely because they carry a burden of guilt, they feel an uncontrollable need to establish their innocence. Of course, as Shakespeare described another such case, they “protest too much;” such declarations serve only to raise, and not allay, doubts about their honesty.
בראשית פרק מב: יא
כֻּלָּ֕נוּ בְּנֵ֥י אִישׁ־אֶחָ֖ד נָ֑חְנוּ כֵּנִ֣ים אֲנַ֔חְנוּ לֹא־הָי֥וּ עֲבָדֶ֖יךָ מְרַגְּלִֽים:
We are all one man’s sons; we are honest men; your servants are no spies. (Bereishit 42:11)
For the brothers, proving their honesty and being truthful is of the utmost importance. And so, we fully expect Yehuda’s address to Yosef, in the climactic scene of their ongoing confrontation, to be completely truthful. A careful reading of his words reveals distortions of fact that are therefore of particular significance.
Setting the stage for the final speech, Yosef’s final ploy is to have his chalice secretly placed in Binyamin’s sack. Later, when the chalice is “discovered” by Yosef’s soldiers, Binyamin is accused of thievery and sentenced to slavery under the Egyptian viceroy (Yosef himself). The brothers’ reaction is confused and illogical: Rather than waiting to see if the charge is supported by facts, once again they say too much, and immediately proclaim that the person in whose bag the chalice is found shall be put to death. This is not only a rash and unfortunate pronouncement, it is also extremely shortsighted and disconnected from very recent realities: Had their money not mysteriously been returned to their bags on their previous trip? Were they so myopic that they believed they were deserving of that earlier “coincidental windfall,” and the possibility that someone had tinkered with their bags never occurred to them?
The “negotiations” between the brothers and Yosef’s men seem comical. The brothers constantly suggest far more severe punishments than the Egyptian soldiers require: First, the soldiers reject their offer of a death sentence for the guilty party. Yosef’s men insist that only the guilty individual will be sentenced to slavery; the brothers counter that all of them should be enslaved. This, too, is rejected by Yosef’s emissaries. The angst and the confusion of the brothers is palpable.
Finally, Yehuda steps forward and speaks. He is majestic both in terms of his assumption of leadership, and in the nature of the address itself. Uncowering, he dares to addresses the viceroy directly, and the narrative reaches an emotional crescendo as he delivers an impassioned speech to his inscrutable and powerful adversary. In general terms, Yehuda pleads for the welfare of his elderly father; specifically, he asks that Binyamin be returned to their father, who loves him and cannot live without him. Yehuda volunteers to take Binyamin’s place, to serve as a slave in his stead. The words Yehuda uses are of particular interest.
בראשית פרק מד: יח-לד
וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּאמֶר֘ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ יְדַבֶּר־נָ֨א עַבְדְּךָ֤ דָבָר֙ בְּאָזְנֵ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י וְאַל־יִ֥חַר אַפְּךָ֖ בְּעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י כָמ֖וֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹֽה:אֲדֹנִ֣י שָׁאַ֔ל אֶת־עֲבָדָ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר הֲיֵשׁ־לָכֶ֥ם אָ֖ב אוֹ־אָֽח: וַנֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֔י יֶשׁ־לָ֙נוּ֙ אָ֣ב זָקֵ֔ן וְיֶ֥לֶד זְקֻנִ֖ים קָטָ֑ן וְאָחִ֨יו מֵ֜ת וַיִּוָּתֵ֨ר ה֧וּא לְבַדּ֛וֹ לְאִמּ֖וֹ וְאָבִ֥יו אֲהֵבֽוֹ: וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֔יךָ הוֹרִדֻ֖הוּ אֵלָ֑י וְאָשִׂ֥ימָה עֵינִ֖י עָלָֽיו: וַנֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֔י לֹא־יוּכַ֥ל הַנַּ֖עַר לַעֲזֹ֣ב אֶת־אָבִ֑יו וְעָזַ֥ב אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וָמֵֽת: וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֔יךָ אִם־לֹ֥א יֵרֵ֛ד אֲחִיכֶ֥ם הַקָּטֹ֖ן אִתְּכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תֹסִפ֖וּן לִרְא֥וֹת פָּנָֽי: וַיְהִי֙ כִּ֣י עָלִ֔ינוּ אֶֽל־עַבְדְּךָ֖ אָבִ֑י וַנַּ֨גֶּד־ל֔וֹ אֵ֖ת דִּבְרֵ֥י אֲדֹנִֽי: וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָבִ֑ינוּ שֻׁ֖בוּ שִׁבְרוּ־לָ֥נוּ מְעַט־אֹֽכֶל: וַנֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לָרֶ֑דֶת אִם־יֵשׁ֩ אָחִ֨ינוּ הַקָּטֹ֤ן אִתָּ֙נוּ֙ וְיָרַ֔דְנוּ כִּי־לֹ֣א נוּכַ֗ל לִרְאוֹת֙ פְּנֵ֣י הָאִ֔ישׁ וְאָחִ֥ינוּ הַקָּטֹ֖ן אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אִתָּֽנוּ: וַיֹּ֛אמֶר עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֖י אֵלֵ֑ינוּ אַתֶּ֣ם יְדַעְתֶּ֔ם כִּ֥י שְׁנַ֖יִם יָֽלְדָה־לִּ֥י אִשְׁתִּֽי: וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָֽאֶחָד֙ מֵֽאִתִּ֔י וָאֹמַ֕ר אַ֖ךְ טָרֹ֣ף טֹרָ֑ף וְלֹ֥א רְאִיתִ֖יו עַד־הֵֽנָּה: וּלְקַחְתֶּ֧ם גַּם־אֶת־זֶ֛ה מֵעִ֥ם פָּנַ֖י וְקָרָ֣הוּ אָס֑וֹן וְהֽוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּרָעָ֖ה שְׁאֹֽלָה:וְעַתָּ֗ה כְּבֹאִי֙ אֶל־עַבְדְּךָ֣ אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶנּ֣וּ אִתָּ֑נוּ וְנַפְשׁ֖וֹ קְשׁוּרָ֥ה בְנַפְשֽׁוֹ: וְהָיָ֗ה כִּרְאוֹת֛וֹ כִּי־אֵ֥ין הַנַּ֖עַר וָמֵ֑ת וְהוֹרִ֨ידוּ עֲבָדֶ֜יךָ אֶת־שֵׂיבַ֨ת עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֛ינוּ בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֹֽלָה: כִּ֤י עַבְדְּךָ֙ עָרַ֣ב אֶת־הַנַּ֔עַר מֵעִ֥ם אָבִ֖י לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־לֹ֤א אֲבִיאֶ֙נּוּ֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְחָטָ֥אתִי לְאָבִ֖י כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים: וְעַתָּ֗ה יֵֽשֶׁב־נָ֤א עַבְדְּךָ֙ תַּ֣חַת הַנַּ֔עַר עֶ֖בֶד לַֽאדֹנִ֑י וְהַנַּ֖עַר יַ֥עַל עִם־אֶחָֽיו: כִּי־אֵיךְ֙ אֶֽעֱלֶ֣ה אֶל־אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶנּ֣וּ אִתִּ֑י פֶּ֚ן אֶרְאֶ֣ה בָרָ֔ע אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִמְצָ֖א אֶת־אָבִֽי:
Then Yehuda came near to him, and said, Oh my lord, let your servant, I beg you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are as Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, Have you a father, or a brother? And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.’ And you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set my eyes upon him.’ And we said to my lord, The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would die. And you said to your servants, Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more. And it came to pass when we came up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. And our father said, ‘Go again, and buy us a little food.’ And we said, We can not go down; if our small brother] be with us, then will we go down; for we may not see the man’s face, unless our: our small brother] be with us. And your servant my father said to us, you know that my wife bore me two sons; And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since. And if you take this also from me, and harm befall him, you shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol. Now therefore when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; It shall come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and your servants shall bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. For your servant guaranteed the lad’s safety to my father, saying,’ If I do not bring him to you, then I shall bear the blame to my father forever. Now therefore, I beg you, let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest perhaps I see the evil that shall come on my father. (Bereishit, 44:18-34)
Yehuda has so much at stake: His brother’s fate, and his own, are in his hands; his own reputation and position of leadership among the brothers hangs in the balance; their father’s emotional and physical well-being is in jeopardy. Yehuda does his utmost to convince Yosef; he holds nothing back. He tries his hand at emotional manipulation, and places the onus of guilt on Yosef for having created this quagmire. And yet, as we have noted, Yehuda and his brothers display a desperate need to be regarded as innocent and truthful. If nothing else, Yosef has proven to be a formidable foe; Yehuda would be a fool to allow himself to be caught in a lie by a foe such as this. With so much at stake, we would expect Yehuda to take great care to be precise, to speak the truth, to be honest and honorable - yet close scrutiny of the text reveals significant departures from this objective. In a fascinating conflation and confusion of events and episodes, Yehuda creates an intertextual mishmash, which must be unraveled if we are to understand both the historical lies and the emotional truth Yehuda conveys.
Let us return to Yehuda’s introductory statements. Yehuda claims that Yosef had asked whether the brothers have a father or brother (verse 19). In fact, Yosef never asked such a question. Rather, it was the brothers, when placed under moderate pressure, who had volunteered this information:
בראשית פרק מב: ט-יג
וַיִּזְכֹּ֣ר יוֹסֵ֔ף אֵ֚ת הַחֲלֹמ֔וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָלַ֖ם לָהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ מְרַגְּלִ֣ים אַתֶּ֔ם לִרְא֛וֹת אֶת־עֶרְוַ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּאתֶֽם: וַיֹּאמְר֥וּ אֵלָ֖יו לֹ֣א אֲדֹנִ֑י וַעֲבָדֶ֥יךָ בָּ֖אוּ לִשְׁבָּר־אֹֽכֶל: (יא) כֻּלָּ֕נוּ בְּנֵ֥י אִישׁ־אֶחָ֖ד נָ֑חְנוּ כֵּנִ֣ים אֲנַ֔חְנוּ לֹא־הָי֥וּ עֲבָדֶ֖יךָ מְרַגְּלִֽים: (יב) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם לֹ֕א כִּֽי־עֶרְוַ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּאתֶ֥ם לִרְאֽוֹת: (יג) וַיֹּאמְר֗וּ שְׁנֵי֣ם עָשָׂר֩ עֲבָדֶ֨יךָ אַחִ֧ים׀ אֲנַ֛חְנוּ בְּנֵ֥י אִישׁ־אֶחָ֖ד בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנָ֑עַן וְהִנֵּ֨ה הַקָּטֹ֤ן אֶת־אָבִ֙ינוּ֙ הַיּ֔וֹם וְהָאֶחָ֖ד אֵינֶֽנּוּ:
Recalling the dreams that he had dreamed about them, Yosef said to them, “You are spies, you have come to see the land in its nakedness.” But they said to him, “No, my lord! Truly, your servants have come to procure food. We are all of us sons of the same man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies!” And he said to them, “No, you have come to see the land in its nakedness!” And they replied, “We your servants were twelve brothers, sons of a man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” (Bereishit 42: 9-13).
Clearly, Yehuda is preoccupied with the question of their intra-familial relationships. Are they, in fact, all brothers? Even Binyamin? Even “the one who is no more?” It appears that in expressing these feelings during his address to Yosef, Yehuda unconsciously sets the stage for the emotional message that will follow.
Yehuda continues: “You asked if we have a father or brother, and we said we have an elderly father and a yeled zekunim katan,’ “a child of his old age, a little one.” (Bereishit 44:20) This is not completely accurate. While Binyamin is the youngest, it is Yosef, and not Binyamin, who has been referred to in this manner; Yosef is Yaakov’s ben zekunim, the “son of his old age” (Bereishit 37:3). Moreover, Yosef is referred to by his brothers as a “child” (“yeled”) (Bereishit 42:22), whereas Binyamin is referred to as a “lad” (na’ar) in Yehuda’s negotiations with his father (Bereishit 43:8). Indeed, in the course of his speech, Yehuda oscillates between the use of “child” and “lad” so frequently, it is almost dizzying: “Child” appears in verses 20, 23 and twice in 26, while “lad” is used in verses 22, 30, 31, 32, twice in 33, and 34. Furthermore, while Binyamin is the youngest, the “baby” of the family, he is not all that young: Soon after this confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda, the text lists the children and grandchildren of Yaakov who come to Egypt as per Yosef’s instructions (Bereishit 46:21). Among them, Binyamin is mentioned – as are his ten children! A rough estimation of the chronology of Bereishit puts Binyamin’s age somewhere between thirty to thirty-two years old at this point. Why call a father of ten a child? 
The confusing elements in Yehuda’s speech suggest that there is a disconnect between what he says and what he is thinking. Ostensibly, Yehuda is speaking to his Egyptian interlocutor about Binyamin, but he seems to be thinking of someone else - his long-lost brother Yosef; the fates of Yosef and Binyamin have begun to merge in Yehuda’s mind. Apparently, Yosef’s strategy has succeeded: Yehuda has undergone a metamorphosis. He is no longer speaking about Binyamin, or only about Binyamin. He has been forced to allow the earlier episode of Yosef to float up to a higher level of his subconscious. Yosef is now, finally, on his mind; his responsibility for Yosef’s fate begins to seep through in this moment of crisis – and the words he uses allow us to glimpse what is just below the surface of his speech.
Another interesting distortion is seen in verse 28. Yehuda re-tells his father’s reaction as follows:
בראשית פרק מד: כז-כט
וַיֹּ֛אמֶר עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֖י אֵלֵ֑ינוּ אַתֶּ֣ם יְדַעְתֶּ֔ם כִּ֥י שְׁנַ֖יִם יָֽלְדָה־לִּ֥י אִשְׁתִּֽי: וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָֽאֶחָד֙ מֵֽאִתִּ֔י וָאֹמַ֕ר אַ֖ךְ טָרֹ֣ף טֹרָ֑ף וְלֹ֥א רְאִיתִ֖יו עַד־הֵֽנָּה: וּלְקַחְתֶּ֧ם גַּם־אֶת־זֶ֛ה מֵעִ֥ם פָּנַ֖י וְקָרָ֣הוּ אָס֑וֹן וְהֽוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּרָעָ֖ה שְׁאֹֽלָה:
And your servant my father said to us, you know that my wife bore me two sons; And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since. And if you take this also from me, and harm befall him, you shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.
But this is not what Yaakov actually said. The text reported his actual response in great detail, as follows:
בראשית פרק מב: לו-לח
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ יַעֲקֹ֣ב אֲבִיהֶ֔ם אֹתִ֖י שִׁכַּלְתֶּ֑ם יוֹסֵ֤ף אֵינֶ֙נּוּ֙ וְשִׁמְע֣וֹן אֵינֶ֔נּוּ וְאֶת־בִּנְיָמִ֣ן תִּקָּ֔חוּ עָלַ֖י הָי֥וּ כֻלָּֽנָה: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר רְאוּבֵן֙ אֶל־אָבִ֣יו לֵאמֹ֔ר אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י בָנַי֙ תָּמִ֔ית אִם־לֹ֥א אֲבִיאֶ֖נּוּ אֵלֶ֑יךָ תְּנָ֤ה אֹתוֹ֙ עַל־יָדִ֔י וַאֲנִ֖י אֲשִׁיבֶ֥נּוּ אֵלֶֽיךָ: וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹֽא־יֵרֵ֥ד בְּנִ֖י עִמָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אָחִ֨יו מֵ֜ת וְה֧וּא לְבַדּ֣וֹ נִשְׁאָ֗ר וּקְרָאָ֤הוּ אָסוֹן֙ בַּדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּֽלְכוּ־בָ֔הּ וְהוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֽוֹלָה:
Their father Yaakov said to them, “You have brought me grief: Yosef is no more and Shimon is no more, and now you would take Binyamin. These things always happen to me!” Then Reuven said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my care, and I will return him to you.” But he said, “My son must not go down with you, for his brother is dead and he alone is left. If he meets with disaster on the journey you are taking, you will send my white head down to Sheol in grief.” (Bereishit 42: 36-,38)
The phrase “he is torn in pieces” was used many years earlier, when the brothers brought Yosef’s bloody clothes to Yaakov and allowed him to draw the inescapable conclusion:
בראשית פרק לז: לג
… וַיַּכִּירָ֤הּ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ כְּתֹ֣נֶת בְּנִ֔י חַיָּ֥ה רָעָ֖ה אֲכָלָ֑תְהוּ טָרֹ֥ף טֹרַ֖ף יוֹסֵֽף:
[Yaakov] recognized it, and said:’It is my son’s coat; an evil beast has devoured him; Yosef is without doubt torn in pieces.(Bereishit 37:33)
As Yehuda stands unknowingly before Yosef, the memory of that horrible cry comes flooding back to him; his father’s pain and his own guilt ring in his ears. He hears, once again, Yaakov’s haunting cry, and the words slip seamlessly into his re-telling of a more recent conversation with his father.
As Yehuda presents his case to the Egyptian despot, he warns that his elderly father will die without his beloved youngest son; his description of Yaakov’s anguish is telling:
בראשית פרק מד: כט-לא
וּלְקַחְתֶּ֧ם גַּם־אֶת־זֶ֛ה מֵעִ֥ם פָּנַ֖י וְקָרָ֣הוּ אָס֑וֹן וְהֽוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּרָעָ֖ה שְׁאֹֽלָה: … וְהָיָ֗ה כִּרְאוֹת֛וֹ כִּי־אֵ֥ין הַנַּ֖עַר וָמֵ֑ת וְהוֹרִ֨ידוּ עֲבָדֶ֜יךָ אֶת־שֵׂיבַ֨ת עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֛ינוּ בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֹֽלָה:
And if you take this also from me, and harm befall him, you shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol. …It shall come to pass, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and your servants shall bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. (Bereishit 44: 29-31).
Once again, Yehuda misreports Yaakov’s parting statement. When he negotiated with Yehuda about sending Binyamin, Yaakov never mentioned going to his own grave in sorrow; Yaakov used this expression twice before - once when Yosef was assumed dead (Bereishit 37:35)and once in Yaakov’s negotiations with Reuven (Bereishit 42:38)- but never in his conversation with Yehuda. Nonetheless, Yehuda utilizes this dramatic turn of phrase in his speech, either because his own emotional state causes him to conflate all these traumatic scenes, or as a means of shifting his own deep-seated guilt onto his adversary’s shoulders. Yehuda knows Yaakov’s pain; his ears are still ringing with Yaakov’s anguished cry decades earlier, and with Yaakov’s words to Reuven. All of these emotions and memories become entangled, and Yehuda finally voices his own unbearable guilt:
בראשית מד: לב-לד
כִּ֤י עַבְדְּךָ֙ עָרַ֣ב אֶת־הַנַּ֔עַר מֵעִ֥ם אָבִ֖י לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־לֹ֤א אֲבִיאֶ֙נּוּ֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְחָטָ֥אתִי לְאָבִ֖י כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים: … כִּי־אֵיךְ֙ אֶֽעֱלֶ֣ה אֶל־אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶנּ֣וּ אִתִּ֑י פֶּ֚ן אֶרְאֶ֣ה בָרָ֔ע אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִמְצָ֖א אֶת־אָבִֽי:
For I have guaranteed the safety of the lad to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame to my father forever… For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? How will I bear to see the evil that shall befall my father? (Bereishit 44:32-34).
Distortions of speech and recall are understood in psychological analysis as the breaking through of repressed emotions. When a number of such ‘breakthroughs’ form a common theme, the distortions may be attributed to a common source, a single, disturbing issue with which the speaker is preoccupied. The psychoanalyst Ernest Jones, quoting Freud, noted that, “… a word said in mistake is a manifestation of a second, suppressed thought, and thus arises outside the train of thought that the speaker intended to express. It may be a word or phrase entirely foreign to the train of thought, being taken in its entirety from the outlying thought, or it may be a compromise formation, in which both come to expression.”
Yosef responds to Yehuda’s speech on many levels, parallel to the levels of Yehuda’s own speech. When Yehuda focuses on his father’s pain, Yosef abandons his disguise. Yosef never wanted to cause his father pain; quite the opposite. His father’s misery tormented him.
Despite his demons, which seem to be dancing just below the surface of his impassioned plea, Yehuda is heroic. Binyamin has been caught stealing, jeopardizing the entire family; Yehuda could quite easily have taken his remaining brothers, cut their losses, and denounced the “problematic” branch of the family. Yehuda could easily have reasoned that Rachel and her sons were all tainted by the same evil: Rachel had stolen her father Lavan’s terafim years earlier, placing the entire family in peril; her son Yosef was a bad apple – self-centered and vain. And now her younger son Binyamin had been caught in an act of selfishness and thievery. Simply turning and walking away could have been Yehuda’s most logical solution to his own dilemma. Instead, Yehuda takes charge, and takes responsibility. He mobilizes the brothers and is willing to be enslaved so Binyamin can go free.
Another subconscious dilemma shows through the language Yehuda employs in his speech to Yosef; his emotions bubble to the surface and he expresses his own inner world without necessarily being aware of it: Yehuda is wracked with guilt for the pain he has caused his father– and so he deflects his guilt by accusing the cruel Egyptian ruler (Yosef) of the very same crime of which he is guilty: ‘If you take away the son that my father loves, he will die! How can you do this to him?’ In fact, this is precisely what Yehuda had done years earlier, and his feelings of guilt and pain break through into his speech.
Perhaps Yehuda’s new voice, as representative of the brothers, was more than just a means of communicating with their Egyptian tormentor. Yehuda’s speech reveals that he is traumatized, and the moment he steps up to take the lead, he assumes the collective guilt for what they all had done to Yosef, and for the pain they had caused their father Yaakov.
Yosef, the interpreter of dreams par excellence, understands Yehuda’s emotional communication perfectly. He hears Yehuda’s subconscious struggle breaking through; he hears Yehuda’s regret and remorse. He senses that the brothers have changed, and that they feel guilty about what they had done. But Yosef is not their therapist, nor can he be. He is the aggrieved brother, the victim. Yosef, understanding exactly what Yehuda is saying and feeling, responds succinctly - but with immense emotional power (Bereishit 45:3): “I am Yosef – is my father still alive?” – as if to say, ‘Are you really so concerned about Yaakov’s well-being that you claim he will die if his beloved son is taken from him?’ He challenges and chastises: “I am Yosef. Could my father be alive? Can he have survived what you have already done, what you did to me?”
With that, Yehuda is rendered speechless; there can be no answer. All of the brothers’ neat explanations vanish in a puff of smoke. No justifications will work. The stark truth of Yosef’s existence stares them down, shocks them into silence. They have no words, only guilt. The sages compare this experience to the Day of Judgment, when the All-Knowing God conducts a final reckoning of man’s deeds. No finesse, no legalese, no justifications: On that day, only the humiliation of facing the truth remains.
Apparently, what Yosef seeks is not revenge; given his position of power, that could have been easily achieved. The erstwhile protégé of the chief executioner of Egypt was surely well-versed in the ways of punishment and pain, but this is not the path Yosef chooses. Nor does he seek to humiliate his brothers; that was never his objective. He wants to remind them of the past, to remind them that there is someone they have forgotten – himself. He wants them to understand that even if they have managed to forget, their father Yaakov never ceased mourning for his “dead” son - and for that ongoing pain, they must take responsibility. Yehuda, who himself had lost not one but two of his own sons, should have been more sensitive to the pain Yaakov was forced to endure – for a son who was quite alive.
When Yehuda takes upon himself the role of protector and spokesperson for his brothers, when he places himself in peril and speaks to the humanity and empathy of his enemy, the first glimpses of Jewish royalty shine through – glimpses that will be more fully manifest in his descendants, the Davidic dynasty. Perhaps, though, these regal qualities are not what made Yehuda and his descendants worthy; perhaps, instead, it was the deep scars, the sense of responsibility, and the trauma of finally realizing what pain and suffering he had caused, that made Yehuda the ultimate Jewish leader. This very human aspect of Yehuda - his readiness to accept his guilt and to chart a path toward rehabilitation, is his true source of strength and majesty.
Yehuda’s words were fraught with imprecision, misrepresentation, and even outright distortion, but behind those words lay very truthful emotions. The man who poured out his heart in Egypt was not the same callous Yehuda who had engineered the sale of his brother and broke his father’s heart. This transformed Yehuda desperately hoped to protect his brother, and to minimalize his father’s pain experienced. This emotionally raw, vulnerable Yehuda gained Yosef’s respect; this Yehuda was the forerunner of kings.
 This essay is based on a lecture I delivered on Dec 12, 2013, originally entitled “Honesty and Empathy.” http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/801844/rabbi-ari-kahn/honesty-and-empathy/
Subsequently, in collaboration with my father Rabbi Dr. Pinchas Kahn, some of the ideas were further developed and references were added.
 Two times Yosef keeps one brother in prison or (threat of) slavery, while sending the others back home. A repetition of his own being sold into slavery. Will they this time still acquiesce to leaving a brother behind as they did in the past?
 Some of these questions were explored in Explorations, Parashat Vayigash (Targum Press 1999), an updated version of Explorations on the book of Bereishit, will soon be released. See Rav Yoel Bin Nun “The Intractable Question: Why Did Yosef Not Send Word to his Father? http://etzion.org.il/en/intractable-question-why-did-yosef-not-send-word-his-father
 See Bereishit 42:7.
 The Hebrew ki keinim anacknu, is variously translated as; “we are honest men” (American Standard Version, 1901 & 1995; Darby Bible and our translation, see note 3), “we are true men” (King James Version, 1611) and “we are upright men” (Jewish Publication Society Bible, translation 1999).
 In this context, zekunim may refer to Yosef’s wisdom rather than Yaakov’s advanced age; see Rashi, based on the Targum.
בראשית לז: ג
וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל אָהַ֤ב אֶת־יוֹסֵף֙ מִכָּל־בָּנָ֔יו כִּֽי־בֶן־זְקֻנִ֥ים ה֖וּא ל֑וֹ וְעָ֥שָׂה ל֖וֹ כְּתֹ֥נֶת פַּסִּֽים:
 See Bereishit 42:22.
בראשית מב: כב
וַיַּעַן֩ רְאוּבֵ֨ן אֹתָ֜ם לֵאמֹ֗ר הֲלוֹא֩ אָמַ֨רְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶ֧ם׀ לֵאמֹ֛ר אַל־תֶּחֶטְא֥וּ בַיֶּ֖לֶד וְלֹ֣א שְׁמַעְתֶּ֑ם וְגַם־דָּמ֖וֹ הִנֵּ֥ה נִדְרָֽשׁ:
 See Bereishit 43: 8.
בראשית מג: ח
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהוּדָ֜ה אֶל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל אָבִ֗יו שִׁלְחָ֥ה הַנַּ֛עַר אִתִּ֖י וְנָק֣וּמָה וְנֵלֵ֑כָה וְנִֽחְיֶה֙ וְלֹ֣א נָמ֔וּת גַּם־אֲנַ֥חְנוּ גַם־אַתָּ֖ה גַּם־טַפֵּֽנוּ:
 Binyamin is referred to as a child by the brothers in their report to Yaakov about the encounter with the ‘ruler of Egypt’ (Bereishit 42:32). This may reflect their understanding of Yaakov’s feelings toward Binyamin, or their own attitude toward their youngest brother.
 Bereishit 37: 35.
בראשית לז: לה
וַיָּקֻמוּ֩ כָל־בָּנָ֨יו וְכָל־בְּנֹתָ֜יו לְנַחֲמ֗וֹ וַיְמָאֵן֙ לְהִתְנַחֵ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר כִּֽי־אֵרֵ֧ד אֶל־בְּנִ֛י אָבֵ֖ל שְׁאֹ֑לָה וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ אֹת֖וֹ אָבִֽיו:
“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”
Bereishit 42: 38:
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹֽא־יֵרֵ֥ד בְּנִ֖י עִמָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אָחִ֨יו מֵ֜ת וְה֧וּא לְבַדּ֣וֹ נִשְׁאָ֗ר וּקְרָאָ֤הוּ אָסוֹן֙ בַּדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּֽלְכוּ־בָ֔הּ וְהוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֽוֹלָה:
… my son will not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone remains, and if disaster strikes on the way he goes, you will cause me to go to my grave in deep mourning – with hair white (from mourning) (Bereishit 42: 38).
 E. Jones, Papers on Psychoanalysis (Boston: Bacon Press, 1912 [first published by Beacon Paper Books, 1961]) p.44. See examples brought in his book from The Egoist by George Meredith on pp. 48-49.
 Rabbi Ari Kahn, Echoes of Eden: Bereishit (Jerusalem and New York: Gefen Publishing and OU Press, 2011), p.320.
 See the commentary of Seforno, Bereishit 45:3, for an in-depth discussion. Also see Echoes of Eden: Bereishit, pp. 320-321.
 See Midrash Sechel Tov (Buber), Vayigash 45:3; Talmud Bavli Chagiga 4b, Midrash Tanchuma (Buber) Vayigash siman 7.
שכל טוב (בובר) בראשית פרשת ויגש פרק מה סימן ג
ג) ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי. בתחלה שאל שלום אביו: ולא יכלו לענות אותו. אפילו על שלום אביו, למה: כי נבהלו מפניו. א"ר אליעזר בן עזריה אוי לנו מיום הדין, אוי לנו מיום התוכחה, ומה יוסף שהוא בשר ודם כשהוכיח את אחיו לא יכלו לעמוד בתוכחתו, בתוכחותיו של הקדוש ברוך הוא מלך מלכי המלכים שהוא עד ודיין ובעל דין, ויושב על כסא רם ונשא בדין, ודן את כל אדם לפי מעשיו על אחת כמה וכמה שאין בריה יכולה לעמוד לפניו, שנא' אם תוכיח ה' מי יעמוד, וכתיב כי לא יצדק לפניך כל חי (תהלים קמג ב):
תלמוד בבלי מסכת חגיגה דף ד עמוד ב
רבי אלעזר כי מטי להאי קרא בכי: ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו. ומה תוכחה של בשר ודם - כך, תוכחה של הקדוש ברוך הוא - על אחת כמה וכמה!
מדרש תנחומא (בובר) פרשת ויגש סימן ז
כיון שאמר להם אני יוסף (אחיכם) לא יכלו אחיו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו (שם /בראשית מ"ה/), ר' אלעזר ב"ר שמעון בשם ר' אלעזר בן עזריה אמר ומה אם יוסף שאמר לאחיו אני יוסף, וידעו מה שעשו בו, לא יכלו לענות אותו, כשיבא הקדוש ברוך הוא להתווכח עם כל אחד ואחד מן הבריות ולומר לו מעשיו כמו שכתוב כי הנה יוצר הרים ובורא רוח ומגיד לאדם מה שיחו (עמוס ד יג) על אחת כמה וכמה שאין בריה יכולה לעמוד.
 Echoes of Eden: Bereishit, p.321.
 Arguably, the first step toward Yehuda’s rehabilitation took place in his interaction with Tamar, when he declared, “She is more righteous than I.” (Bereishit 38:26). See Explorations: Parashat Vayeshev, “The Light of the Messiah.”