The Midrash teaches that when a person arrives in Heaven, he is put on trial to account for how he spent his life. The experience is said to be as mortifying and humiliating as when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.
The dramatic way the story unfolds is instructive.
Yosef planted stolen property on Binyamin and imprisoned him, to determine if his brothers had changed over the years. Yehuda stepped forward to persuade their captor with a heart-rending plea on behalf of their old father, that to return home without his youngest son would be the death of him. Yehuda begged him that out of mercy to their elderly father, he would release Binyamin.
Seeing how they would stick up for each other, Yosef knew that things were different. This was the moment to reveal his true identity:
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו – Yosef said to his brothers, “It is I, Yosef. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer because they were so shocked.
His brothers were talking about their obviously living father moments ago. What was his question?
The Beis Halevi explains that this was rhetoric picking up on their new found concern for their poor old father. This completely ironic question is heartrending. “Is he not my father too? Didn’t you think of his pain then? Is he only alive to you now that you are the victim?”
With such a turn of events, of course were shocked into silence. Not just because of the surprise, but because he was completely correct. They were hypocrites!
Yet what happens next shows the calibre of the men this story is about. Without a hint of malice, he simply embraced them all.
This is what the Midrash is about.
It is worth noting that until the point he revealed himself, Yosef was a threat, and they were dangerous too. Shimon and Levi were known killers! Yosef sent out all his staff, risking his life, rather than humiliate them any more than necessary,
The story is a paradigm for how to mend a broken relationship. It is comprehensive but concise when delivered, and accepted when received.
We all have relationship struggles for far less. Whichcould be mended with a few well chosen words?