Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5765
A Telling Drink
The commentaries explain Yosef’s psychological ploys against his brothers as a tactic to get them to do teshuva for the terrible sin they committed against him. This thesis explains many things but leaves a few points that are worthwhile to investigate.
During the brothers’ second trip to Egypt, the encounter with Yosef started on a conciliatory note. Yosef invited them to a festive meal to mark the occasion, and wine was served. The Torah relates, “they drank and got drunk with him” (Bereishit 43:34). Rashi comments that this was the first time that either Yosef or his brothers had drunk since Yosef had been sold as a slave. There are a couple of peculiarities here. First, why start drinking now? The brothers can be understood. They were not going to “make waves” with the temperamental Egyptian ruler. If he said, “Drink!” they would drink. But why did Yosef initiate the drinking, against his long kept practice? Rashi also does something strange in presenting this information. We should expect this idea to be brought on the word “vayishtu (they drank),” as Rashi would point out that this was the first drink in many years. Yet he makes his comments on the words, “they got drunk with him.” Why?
Perhaps one question answers the other. Yosef did not only want to make his brothers think about what they had done, but he wanted to know what they were thinking. He had already overheard them conjecture that their recent troubles had been Divine Retribution for their treatment of Yosef (ibid. 42:21). But Yosef wanted to know more. Had their consciences given them any trouble before calamity began befalling them? He devised a test based on a biological tendency. Those who do not regularly imbibe alcoholic beverages deal less efficiently with their effect than those who drink. So Yosef drank with them. As he had not drunk in 22 years, he knew that a moderate amount of wine, standard for a festive meal of nobility, would intoxicate him. If his brothers would get intoxicated at the same rate as he, he would know that they too had refrained from wine as a means of grieving for what they had done. Thus, Rashi points out on the words, “they became drunk together,” that this must have been the first drink of wine in years for all of them. Indeed the intoxication was the proof of the idea.
Yosef was known as, “the tzaddik.” Indeed, he withstood the temptation thrust upon him by Potiphar’s wife and, later, by the corrupt society of Egypt. There was no pleasure in the world that was beyond his reach, yet he would not even touch a bit of wine. But perhaps Yosef’s greatest act of righteousness was his conviction not to carry out psychological warfare against his brothers any further than was needed for them to show their preparedness to accept and make amends for their betrayal of him. Our insight is one further indication of the steps he took to devise a serious, yet measured response to his brothers. He was then able to accept his years of slavery as a Divine Decree for the ultimate good of the family (ibid. 45:8).
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