Why would Yosef act so harshly towards his brothers? He is often referred to as Yosef HaTzadik; certainly a Tzadik wouldn’t cause so much suffering to his brothers, no matter how much he had been harmed by them. Rather, Yosef wanted to help his brothers by punishing them Middah Kineged Middah for the way they had treated them, thus allowing them to do a full Teshuva.
In last week’s Parsha, Perek 37 Pasuk 4, it says; “Vilo Yachlu Dabro Leshalom,” “the brothers could not speak peacefully with Yosef.” On the other hand, in this week’s Parsha we see that, “Vayedaber Itam kashot,” Yosef spoke harshly with his brothers when they came to Egypt looking for food. In last week’s Parsha, the brothers accused Yosef of slandering them, which destroyed their reputations. For this crime, the brothers felt that they would have to punish him by death. However, in this week’s Parsha, Yosef accused the brothers of being spies when they arrived in Egypt for food, and being accused of espionage is a crime punishable by death.
In last week’s Parsha, the brothers threw Yosef into a pit with snakes and scorpions, and Shimon had been the brother who had tormented Yosef the most during the ordeal. Then, in this week’s Parsha, Yosef put his brothers in prison for 3 days, but kept Shimon in jail until the brothers would return to Egypt with Binyamin. In last week’s Parsha, Yosef was kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave. Therefore, when Yosef placed the money in the brothers’ backpacks in this week’s Parsha, the brothers were understandably worried that this would lead to their arrest, and they would be sold into slavery. Later on, Yosef also framed Binyamin by placing the goblet in his bag. This was the big test that Yosef had for his brothers for two reasons. First, he wanted to test the brothers to see if this was really Binyamin. Yosef had not seen his brother since he was a little boy, and was worried that maybe the brothers had taken some slave and disguised him as their younger brother. If this had been the case, then they would not have protested Binyamin’s arrest. Secondly, and more importantly, Yosef wanted to test his brothers to see if they still had animosity towards Rachel’s children. By not fighting on Binyamin’s behalf, they would in a sense be selling a second son of Rachel into slavery.
The Midrash tells us that at first the brothers taunted Binyamin when they saw the goblet in his bag, saying to him, “Thief! Son of a thieving woman!” This was of course a reference to his mother who stole Lavan’s idols. Binyamin replied that they were thieves as they had sold their own brother into slavery. The Beit Halevi suggests that Binyamin was implying that the brothers had actually planted the goblet in his bag in order to rid themselves of Rachel’s other son. But, as we see from Yehudah’s powerful speech towards Yosef, where he pleads for Binyamin’s life, the brothers certainly had learned from their mistake. They had done as Yosef had hoped, achieving the full level of Teshuvah.