At the conclusion of last week’s Parashah, Yosef’s tormenting of the brothers comes to a climax when he tries to enslave the youngest of them, Binyamin. The great question throughout this episode is, why does Yosef wait until after Yehudah steps forward to take the place of Binyamin to reveal himself to his brothers?
Radak suggests that Yosef’s pity was triggered only after Yehudah told him about how his father could not bear another loss like that of Yosef. Yosef therefore stops torturing his brothers because of Ya’akov’s stress, not because they had evoked his sympathy. He did not want Ya’akov to experience another Yosef incident with Binyamin.
In a different vein, Rav Yoel Bin Nun suggests that throughout his exile in Mitzrayim, Yosef thinks that he has been forgotten. Upon learning that the brothers had come to Mitzrayim, Yosef decides to find out whether he was truly exiled from his family as he had thought. He had assumed that Ya’akov never sought him out because his brothers had convinced his father that he was unworthy. When Yehudah defends Binyamin, Yosef hears in the plea from Yehudah that Ya’akov had two sons from Rachel; one had left them and the other is here. Yehudah then tells Yosef that the brothers lied about Yosef’s death to Ya’akov, instead telling him that, “Ach Tarof Toraf,” “Surely he is torn to pieces” (BeReishit 44:28). Thus, Yosef realizes that he was not denounced by Ya’akov; Ya’akov was merely deceived, and as such, he still has a place in the family. Upon this realization, Yosef accomplishes the goal of his tormenting the brothers and immediately ceases all torture by revealing who he truly is. Yosef held out long enough to accomplish his goal, which was to figure out whether he was cut off from his family. As soon as he figures out that he was not barred from Ya’akov’s family, he stops torturing the brothers and reveals his true identity.
Misinformation and lies can be extremely damaging. They can cause a family to be ripped asunder for years because each side believes it has no possibility of reconnecting with the other. Yehudah’s misleading of Ya’akov should serve as a powerful deterrent against such lies, which serve to compound already unfortunate situations.