By Rabbi Ephraim
"And Yosef said to his brothers I
am Yosef. Is my father still alive? But his brothers could
not answer him for they were alarmed before him.... And now
be not distressed nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here,
for it was to provide sustenance G-d has sent me before you"
these words, Yosef is seemingly absolving his brothers of any responsibility
for having sold him into slavery. Rather, he reasons, G-d had
sent him for a good cause.
This raises some difficulties,
for whenever one causes harm to another this harm has been decreed
from G-d. Therefore, how can one bear ill will toward the perpetrator?
The answer is, that although this harm was preordained, it did not
have to come about through this person. Therefore, the responsibility
for the act falls on the one who, of his own free will, chose to
do harm. This returns us to the original question. Why wasnt
Yosef angry with his brothers even though good resulted from their
act? Furthermore, if Yosef didnt bear any grudge against his
brothers, why then did he put them through this harrowing ordeal?
To answer these questions,
let us backtrack to the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev specifically,
to the quarrel between Yosef and the brothers. The Pasuk states
"And Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father."
Our sages teach us that Yosef suspected the brothers of eating the
flesh of an animal while it was alive. This is a capital crime under
the "Seven Noahide Laws". Additionally, our Sages list
several other grievous sins of which Yosef mistakenly suspected
them. The brothers thus considered Yosef a Rodeif, one who is attempting
to kill someone, and therefore they felt justified in doing everything
in their power to stop him, even if it meant taking his life. Yosef
understood that when they sold him it was because they felt they
were doing the right thing. They werent selling him with evil
intentions - only to protect themselves. Therefore, Yosef harbored
no ill feelings toward his brothers. However, Yosef felt that although
the brothers had good reasons for their actions, knowing the closeness
Yaakov felt with Yosef, they should have realized the effect Yosefs
death would have on Yaakovs health.
Yosef did not harbor
any personal ill will towards his brothers. Quite the contrary,
out of love for his brothers he wanted them to be absolved of their
sin. Yosef felt that in order for the brothers to get a proper kapparah,
atonement, it was necessary for them to do teshuva, repentance,
by counterbalancing their sin through acting properly when faced
with a similar situation. Yosef therefore created a situation in
which Yaakovs health was at risk. When faced with the prospect
of having to return home without Binyamin, Yehuda says to Yosef,
"And now if I come to your servant my father and the Youth
is not with us
it will happen when he sees the youth is missing
he will die" (Ibid. 44:30-31). Our sages relate that the brothers
were prepared to use any force necessary to bring Binyamin back.
Only when Yosef realized that his brothers would sacrifice their
lives for Yaakovs sake did he reveal himself to his brothers,
for he now realized that they had done true teshuva.