said to them on the third day, Do this and live; I fear God:
If you are truthful people, let one of your brothers be imprisoned
in your place of confinement while you go and bring provisions for
the hunger of your households. Then bring your youngest brother
to me so your words will be verified and you will not die.
And they did so. They then said to one another, Indeed we
are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt
anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why
this anguish has come upon us. (Genesis 42:18-21)
brothers finally admit to their culpability in selling Yosef and
start the process of repentance, but what specifically is motivating
them now after 22 years? They had endured famine and three days
imprisonment and were about to be set free, with the exception of
So why at the time of their partial salvation are the brothers admitting
their guilt and repenting?
has free will to harm others, they assumed that Yosefs decision
to lock them up was an exercise of his free will and not necessarily
a G-dly act of retribution. Likewise, Reuven, who had actually protested
the sale of Yosef, was also imprisoned with them. Thus they figured,
had this been Divine payback, measure for measure, Reuven would
not have been jailed.
decides to set the brothers free, with the exception of Shimon,
he explains his actions with the words, I fear God.
Yosef was concerned that the brothers wouldnt be able to provide
food for all of their families since one brother wouldnt be
able to carry all the food back home. Thus Yosef, motivated by fear
of G-d, reconsidered his decision.
a change of heart for an authoritarian dictator is rare, Yosef was
quite atypical, as the fear of G-d led him to reconsider his decision.
With one brother
singled out as the hostage, the brothers reflected on their original
sin, as they had singled out Yosef. Furthermore, Shimon, the ringleader
of the anti-Yosef plot, was truly the most suitable
choice. It was at this point that the brothers realized that Yosefs
decision was not an ordinary exercise of human free will; these
were Divine messages.
realized that if a gentile ruler can reevaluate his
decision based on fear of G-d, where did that leave them? They said
to themselves: This man is having mercy on foreigners whom
he has never met and has no kinship with! Maybe we should also reexamine
our actions of 22 years ago in light of current events. Maybe this
is a Divine message and we were wrong! It was these thoughts
that ultimately propelled them toward repentance.
Let this be
an example for us. We should constantly reexamine our previous actions
and never be afraid to admit fault or wrongdoing, even years after
an incident. (Based on Ohr HaChaim and Maayn Bais HaShoevah)