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Parshas Mikeitz finds Yosef in the complete opposite situation from last week’s parsha. After correctly interpreting the dreams of Paroh, Yosef is raised to second-in-command of Egypt with total control over all functions of the kingdom. His main assignment was to prepare for the upcoming seven-year famine which he had predicted. With this foreknowledge and a plan, Yosef built Egypt into the wealthiest country in the World; people from every country came to Egypt to purchase food.
Eventually, Yaakov’s sons make their way down to Egypt. Yosef had prepared for this and had them gathered up and brought to his palace. He then proceeded to put them through an emotional ordeal by first accusing them of being spies and forcing them to return to Eretz Yisrael to bring back Binyamin to prove their innocence. In the meantime, he kept Shimon in jail as a hostage. What was the reason for this whole charade? Yosef must have known it would be difficult for his father to let Binyamin, his only remaining reminder of Rachel, leave his side for an extended period of time. Also, with all the tortures his brothers put him through when selling him as a slave, did that mean Yosef allowed to take revenge on them now? Why did he put Yaakov and his brothers through this torment?
The Ramban explains based on the pasuk, “וַיִּזְכֹּ֣ר יוֹסֵ֔ף אֵ֚ת הַֽחֲלֹמ֔וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָלַ֖ם לָהֶ֑ם” “And Yosef remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them (his brothers) (Bereishis 42:9). When Yosef saw his brothers bowing down to him, he recalled the dreams from his youth, the ones they had all interpreted to mean that he would one day rule over his brothers. However, when the brothers first appeared in front of him, the dream was not completely fulfilled; according to his dream, all eleven of his brothers had to bow down to him, so he had to have Binyamin brought down as well. Once Binyamin arrived and all eleven brothers bowed down to him, Yosef was ready to move on to the second dream which included his father bowing down to him, and sent for Yaakov to come down to Egypt. The Ramban acknowledges that this whole episode must have been torture for the family, but he declares that it was worth it so that the dreams should be fulfilled.
The question is obvious: was it that important that the dreams be fulfilled to the exact detail that Yosef had to torture his brothers, and worse, his father? Chazal teach us that in every dream, even in the most true ones, there is a part which is not true. Why couldn’t Yosef chalk up Binyamin not being there to that principle? What is the big deal about his dreams?
I came across a number of answers, but one that stood out to me comes from Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky. He explains that it wasn’t specifically about the dreams that made Yosef go through this entire process. There was a lesson he had to teach his brothers which even after all the years of his being gone, they still hadn’t learned. The brothers were wise men who acted only for the sake of Hashem. When they observed Yosef’s behavior as a youth, how he preened himself, and entertained (in their minds) delusions of grandeur, they felt he was threatening the long-term future of the family culture they had carefully constructed. After all, this was not a group of simple shepherds, they were to be the founders of the great Nation of Hashem! Therefore, without even consulting their father, they put together a Beis Din and sentenced him. This was no kangaroo court, however; they had a fair judgement, and based on their observations, came out with a fair ruling. However, they were clearly mistaken; and even all these years later, while they felt bad for their father, they still felt they had made the correct decision in regards to Yosef.
Yosef wanted to teach his brothers a lesson that went beyond just him, that even though they were great men, they could still make a mistake in their initial, simple assumptions. It was possible to have a fair and impartial judgement, but if the assumption was incorrect, the whole idea would be incorrect. Until they went through all the tortures in this week’s parsha, they had never entertained this possibility. It was so important to show them this, that he made sure every detail of the dream was exactly the way it had been foreseen, just to make sure this point was illustrated to the fullest. And his planned worked, as it says in the pasuk, “וַיֹּֽאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־אָחִ֗יו אֲבָל֘ אֲשֵׁמִ֣ים | אֲנַ֘חְנוּ֘ עַל־אָחִ֒ינוּ֒ אֲשֶׁ֨ר רָאִ֜ינוּ צָרַ֥ת נַפְשׁ֛וֹ בְּהִתְחַֽנְנ֥וֹ אֵלֵ֖ינוּ וְלֹ֣א שָׁמָ֑עְנוּ עַל־כֵּן֙ בָּ֣אָה אֵלֵ֔ינוּ הַצָּרָ֖ה הַזֹּֽאת” “And they said to one another, ‘Indeed, we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us.” (Ibid 21).
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