In last week’s Parsha, we read how Yosef accused his brothers of being spies, eventually isolated Binyamin, and demanded him to remain as his slave. This week’s Parsha begins with a description of how Yehuda stood up for Binyamin. Yosef was so moved by Yehuda’s pleas that he revealed himself to his brothers. Surprisingly, the brothers did not respond or react at all: Two questions come to mind. First, why did Yosef choose at this time reveal himself, and not earlier or later? Second, why was there no reaction by the brothers? What were their thoughts?
We find many different approaches to the first question among the Meforshim. The Shem Mishmuel suggests that Yosef was waiting for someone to stand up for Binyamin (the remaining child of his mother Rachel), and would not reveal himself to his brothers until then. He wanted to see if they had corrected their behavior. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai of Gur suggests that, Yosef feared that his brothers still hated him. After all, the same dreams that they hated 22 years earlier had now come true. Yosef did not know what to expect. However, once Yehuda volunteered to be Yosef’s slave, he knew that they would not hate him, for it was Yehuda himself who made the dreams come true. Perhaps the most interesting explanation suggests that Yosef was waiting for his brothers to do Teshuva. When we trace the story, we see that the brothers performed all three steps of Teshuva that the Rambam requires Charata, regret, Viddui, confession, and, Kabbala Leatid, change for future actions. It was then that Yosef was able to reveal himself.
As to why the brothers were silent, Rabbi Hillel gives a wonderful insight: The brothers were strong and forceful when they knew they were correct. However, when they realized that they had been living a lie, they were not strong anymore, and were not able to speak. When Yosef said the simple words, “Ani Yosef,” the Chafetz Chaim suggests that all their questions were solved. For with these words, they saw the reasons behind their suffering. In the same way, when Hashem will eventually tell us “Ani Hashem,” he will answer all of our questions, and we too will understand all of our suffering.