Creating Family Peace

Joseph serves as a model of creating opportunities for repentance and forgiveness.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Joseph interprets Pharaoh's two dreams and predicts seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. (41:1-32)

  • Pharaoh places Joseph in charge of food collection and distribution. (41:37-49)

  • Joseph marries Asenath, and they have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. (41:50-52)

  • When Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy food during the famine, Joseph accuses them of spying. He holds Simeon hostage while the rest of the brothers return to Canaan to retrieve Benjamin for him. (42:3-42:38)

  • The brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin and for more food. Joseph continues the test, this time falsely accusing Benjamin of stealing and declaring that Benjamin must remain his slave. (43:1-44:17)

Focal Point

For though Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Recalling the dreams that he had dreamed about them, Joseph said to them, "You are spies, you have come to see the land in its nakedness."

But they said to him, "No, my lord! Truly, your servants have come to procure food. We are all of us sons of the same man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies."

And he said to them, "No, you have come to see the land in its nakedness."

And they replied, "We your servants were twelve brothers, sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more."

But Joseph said to them, "It is just as I have told you: You are spies. By this you shall be put to the test: Unless your youngest brother comes here, by Pharaoh, you shall not depart from this place. Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain confined, that your words may be put to the test whether there is truth in you. Else, by Pharaoh, you are nothing but spies. And he confined them in the guardhouse for three days (Genesis 42:8-17).

Your Guide

Why does Joseph accuse his brothers of being spies?

Can you imagine a different way that Joseph may have chosen to test his brothers in order to determine if they had repented?

Why did Joseph confine all his brothers for three days? What result was Joseph expecting?

If you were Joseph, how would you have responded to your brothers' arrival in Egypt?

By the Way…

"Joseph's brothers went down." [Genesis 42:3] Scripture should have said, "Jacob's sons." Why "Joseph's brothers?" Because in the beginning they did not treat him like a brother for they sold him into servitude, but in the end they regretted what they had done. Every day they would say, "When shall we be going down into Egypt to bring our brother back to his father?" And when their father told them to go down to Egypt, they were all as one in their resolve to bring him back (H. N. Bialik and Y. H. Ravnitzky, The Book of Legends, p. 53).

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Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum

Bruce Greenbaum is the Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley, CA.