Parshat Mikeitz recounts the first interaction between Yosef and his brothers since they sold him. One would expect that the brothers would rejoice and be happy to see each other. However, 42:7 reports the contrary: “Vayar Yosef Et Echav Vayakireim Vayitnakeir Aleihem,” “Yosef saw his brothers, and he recognized them, but he acted like a stranger towards them.”
A question arises from this encounter between Yosef and his brothers: why did Yosef not inform his brothers of his true identity? Why did he mislead them and act as if he had never seen them before? Furthermore, Yosef knew that his father was distraught and depressed over the loss of his son. If Yosef was truly “Yosef Hatzadik,” why did he not inform his father that he was indeed alive, relieving his father of much anxiety?
Rav Shlomo Twerski explains Yosef’s reasoning in choosing this course of action. Yosef knew that if he forgave the brothers immediately, they would feel ashamed. In fact, they would feel so bad that they would never be able to face Yosef or Yaakov again. Their morale would have been completely destroyed. Of course, Yosef did not wish this unto his brothers. Therefore, he provided his brothers with the opportunity to achieve Teshuvah.
The Gemara says that full Teshuvah only occurs if the person is placed in the same situation that previously led to sin but does not sin. The person must be successful in conquering his Yeitzer Hara and not commit the same act a second time. Therefore, Yosef had to create a situation that would allow his brothers the opportunity to achieve such Teshuvah.
Yosef’s plan was to falsely accuse his brother Binyamin of robbery and sentence him to prison. He would then observe how the brothers would react. Would they neglect Binyamin as they did Yosef, or would they acknowledge their mistake and do Teshuvah? When Yehudah offered to stay in jail instead of Binyamin, Yosef knew that the brothers had achieved Teshuvah. Since they had done Teshuvah, the brothers would not be morally crushed, and they would indeed be able to face Yosef and Yaakov. At this time, Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.
We still remain with the question of why Yosef did not inform his father of his well-being. Rav Shlomo explains that Yosef knew his father well. He knew that his father would be willing to sacrifice years of suffering in order to provide his children the opportunity for Teshuvah. Yosef would not have been able to fulfill his father’s wish if he had informed Yaakov of his well-being. Therefore, Yosef was indeed justified in his actions and deserved the title of “Yosef HaTzadik.”
We can learn a profound lesson from this story. Yosef teaches us the importance of facilitating Teshuvah and self-esteem. He was even willing to take extraordinary measures to provide his brothers with an opportunity for Teshuvah and restore their self-esteem. We must all strive to do the same, carefully and wisely using all resources to assist others in achieving Teshuvah and enhancing their self-esteem.