Last week’s Parashah, Parashat MiKeitz, ended on a cliffhanger; Yosef had just accused his brother Binyamin of stealing his silver goblet, and Yosef said that as punishment for Binyamin’s theft, he would become Yosef’s slave (BeReishit 44:15-17). This week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYigash, begins with Yosef’s brother Yehudah stepping forward to defend Binyamin. Yehudah asks Yosef to please let Binyamin go with his brothers back to their father (44:26). Yehudah even offers himself as a slave to Yosef in place of Binyamin – “VeAtah, Yeishev Na Avdecha Tachat HaNa’ar Eved LAdoni, VeHaNa’ar Ya’al Im Echav,” “So now, please let your servant stay instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and may the boy go up with his brothers” (44:33). Immediately following this, Yosef becomes unable to hold himself back any longer, so he reveals to his brothers that he is their brother Yosef (45:3). Why does Yosef wait until now to reveal himself to his brothers? Yosef has already seen his brothers twice before this and could have revealed his true identity then. What happened in the interim that caused this big announcement?
To answer this question, we must look back at Parashat VaYishlach. As Yosef grows up in the house of his father, there is a considerable amount of tension between the family of Rachel, Yosef’s mother, and the family of Leah, the mother of most of Yosef’s brothers. Rashi tells us that when Rachel died, Ya’akov moved his bed to the tent of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant. Reuven, Ya’akov’s firstborn son, was unhappy that Ya’akov was spending time with Bilhah instead of with his mother Leah, so he moved Ya’akov’s bed from Bilhah’s tent to Leah’s tent (35:22 s.v. VaYishkav). This highlights the tension between the two halves of Ya’akov’s family.
This inter-family tension manifests itself as tension between Yosef and his brothers in Parashat VaYeishev – “VaYir’u Echav Ki Oto Ahav Avihem MiKol Echav, VaYisne’u Oto, VeLo Yachlu Dabero LeShalom,” “And [Yosef’s] brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, so they hated him, and they could not speak with him peacefully” (37:4). Once again, we see the tension between Rachel’s family (Yosef) and Leah’s family (Yosef’s brothers). Furthermore, when the brothers are shepherding in Shechem and Yosef comes to check on them, the brothers begin plotting to kill Yosef even before they talk to him (37:18).Yosef grows up with a lot of hatred in his house, and we do not read of any love between Yosef and his brothers in the early years of Yosef’s life. However, when the brothers come to Yosef in Egypt and Yehudah stands up to defend Binyamin, a son of Rachel, Yosef sees the Achdut, the unity, th at the brothers have developed. When Yosef sees this Achdut, he knows that the brothers have repented by ending the disunity that caused them to hate Yosef; therefore, Yosef decides to reveal himself to the brothers.
This event in Sefer BeReishit foreshadows a theme in current society that is all too prevalent. The Achdut between the brothers comes out in a time of stress. So too, nowadays, Achdut in the community often comes in times of stress. Usually, the strongest Achdut occurs when, heaven forfend, tragedy strikes. An example of this is found in Parashat VaYishlach: Yitzchak Avinu passes away and, despite their differences, his sons, Ya’akov and Eisav, come together to bury their father (35:29). We see community coming together in times of stress, and that is when the Achdut is strongest. Hopefully, as time goes on, we will not need these unfortunate incidents to occur in order to bring out the Achdut in Am Yisrael. May we merit a time when Achdut will reign without a triggering tragedy.