We are back to Mikeitz, the portion in which the ten brothers who sold Joseph into slavery arrive before him years later in Egypt to purchase grain during a famine. Joseph — who has the authority to grant or deny their request for grain — recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him. As the story continues to unfold, Joseph engages in deception and trickery… taking one brother hostage, demanding the brothers bring their youngest brother if they ever again return, hiding money or valuables in their bags, etc.
The question that goes without explicit answer is: “Why?”
Is Joseph hiding the truth of his identity and placing his brothers in situations that make them look like thieves because he is:
(1) getting revenge on the brothers who sold him into slavery; OR
(2) testing the brothers to see if they have changed, so that he would be safe to reveal himself to them??
The Torah portion ends without any clear answer to that question. We are left to struggle with its resolution and, if we so choose, are offered an opportunity to set aside our personal filters and learn to see that either motivation is equally likely to be driving Joseph’s behavior … or that, maybe, Joseph is tricking his brothers both to protect himself and to get revenge?
After all, why should Torah be different from our own lives, which are dynamic and complex??
Does any of us ever act from a single motivating force? We, of course, usually want to claim that our motives are pure, just, or upright. But are they ever completely?
If we could step back from our own lives and see our stories the way we see Torah stories, would we see our motives … and those of our “friends” or “enemies” … as more grey than we typically imagine them to be?
And is it not true that … no matter how “high” any of us appears to have risen in our society … each of us remains, at least in some small part, a younger, more fragile version of ourselves who is afraid of disappointing, losing, or being abandoned by those we love?
This Shabbat, may Joseph’s story teach us to see those around us, and their stories, as more multi-layered and dynamic than we ever before could have imagined them to be, and may our seeing allow us to view others, and ourselves, with more compassion…
Shabbat shalom and chag sameach, jen