Why Did Yosef Frame Binyamin/2

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Why Did Yosef Frame Binyamin?

Exegetical Approaches


In attempting to understand Yosef's actions, exegetes present widely varying character portraits of Yosef. The majority of commentators, already from the Second Temple period and on, depict Yosef as the architect of the processes of the brothers' repentance and the reunification of Yaakov's family. For them, the framing of Binyamin was designed to test the brothers, and they passed with flying colors. In contrast, other commentators view Yosef in a less positive light. R"Y HeChasid and Shadal maintain that Yosef was not originally planning on revealing himself to his brothers and was concerned only with reuniting with Binyamin and/or Yaakov. In their opinion, Yehuda's speech was not anticipated by Yosef, but rather caused a change of heart. Radak goes one step further and suggests that Yosef's actions throughout the story were meant to cause the brothers anguish for their actions toward him.

Testing His Brothers' Repentance

Yosef's actions were motivated by a desire to reunite his entire family. The planting of the goblet was devised to assess his brothers' degree of repentance and to enable a familial reconciliation.

Plan and its realization – According to this approach, Yosef fully anticipated that the brothers would act to save Binyamin, and Yehuda's speech was exactly what Yosef had been hoping for.
"כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי" – R. Shemuel b. Chofni explains that with Yosef's change of fortune and the birth of his son, the pain of his brothers' mistreatment subsided. Thus, when the brothers arrived, he was no longer filled with anger or vengeful thoughts.
Accusation of espionage – According to Philo, R. Shemuel b. Chofni and Akeidat Yitzchak, this was simply a means to an end. Using this method, Yosef could ensure that the brothers brought Binyamin to Egypt2 so that he could then test how they treated him and whether they had changed their ways.3
Initial returning of their payment – R. Shemuel b. Chofni suggests that this was not part of the test. Rather, Yosef simply wanted to save his family money.4 Alternatively, one could propose that Yosef, thinking that the original sale was partially motivated by financial gain, was testing whether the brothers would pocket the returned payments or not.
Favoring Binyamin – Philo and Seforno assert that Yosef wanted to see if the brothers would be envious of Binyamin. To know whether the brothers had really changed, it was necessary to put them in a similar situation to the one that had caused them to sell Yosef years before. Thus, Yosef loads Binyamin with presents, much as Yaakov had favored Yosef, and then monitors the brothers' reaction.
Second returning of payment
  • R. Shemuel b. Chofni and Abarbanel view this as part of the test Yosef set up for the brothers. Abarbanel proposes that Yosef was preventing a potential flaw in his plan – that the brothers would erroneously conclude that Binyamin had actually stolen the goblet and from a sense of justice (rather than spite or hatred) allow him to be punished. He, therefore, planted not just the goblet but also all of their monies, to ensure that the brothers recognized that this was a set-up.5
  • Ramban and Seforno, suggest, as above, that Yosef returned the money out of good will. Moreover, he does so with the brothers' knowledge,6 to compensate them for the troubles he had put them through when he had accused them of spying.7
Framing an innocent person?
  • Sefer HaYashar and the Biur assert that Yosef had actually revealed himself and his entire scheme to Binyamin earlier,8 so Binyamin did not suffer from any anxiety or the like.
  • Others focus on the problematic slandering of Binyamin's character. Perhaps this, in part, motivates Abarbanel to suggest that Yosef made certain that the brothers knew Binyamin was framed (see above). R. Shemuel b. Chofni Gaon, in contrast, asserts simply that the ends (the reuniting of the family and assuaging of Yaakov's longing) justified the means (the temporary slandering.)
"הָאֱ-לֹהִים מָצָא אֶת עֲוֹן עֲבָדֶיךָ" – Seforno understands that the brothers are saying that though they are innocent of this charge, Hashem is repaying them for a different sin, the selling of Yosef. If so, this is exactly what Yosef was trying to determine, whether the brothers regretted their original actions or not.
Why did Yosef not contact Yaakov immediately? Ramban asserts that Yosef wanted to realize his dreams, which necessitated Yaakov and all of Yosef's brothers (including Binyamin) coming down to Egypt and bowing to him.9 R. Yonah adds two more possibilities: that Yosef might have seen his exile as atonement for his own misdeeds in slandering his brothers, or alternatively, that Yosef feared that alerting Yaakov to the sale and his sons' behavior would have caused him more distress than his inability to reunite with Yosef.10
Crux of the position – This position views Yosef as having moved beyond the pain he endured at the hands of his brothers and being nobly concerned with the welfare of his family. The brothers, also, have come full circle, repented for their sins, and become altruistic people. Thus, the reader is left with an optimistic view of a righteous family reunified.

Reconnecting With Binyamin and Yaakov

Yosef's goal was to reunite with Binyamin and/or Yaakov exclusively, and he had no real interest in rehabilitating his relationship with the rest of his brothers.

Why Binyamin?
  • For Binyamin himself – According to Shadal, Yosef was primarily interested in reuniting with Binyamin himself (as he was his full brother and the only one not involved in his sale),11 and far less concerned with seeing Yaakov.12
  • Binyamin as a pawn – For R"Y Bekhor Shor and R"Y HeChasid, though, holding Binyamin was only a means of achieving a reunion with Yaakov.13 According to R"Y HeChasid, Yosef expected that Yaakov would come down to Egypt to plead for Binyamin and they would then be reunited. In contrast, R"Y Bekhor Shor posits that Yosef had cornered his brothers and left them no option other than to reveal the circumstances of his original sale to Yaakov.14
Yosef's original plan and "וְלֹא יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק" – R"Y HeChasid and Shadal each contend that Yosef's initial intention was not to reveal himself to his brothers at this stage. They prove this from the fact that Yosef revealed his identity only when he could no longer control his emotions.15
Change in plans – Shadal explains that Yosef shifted course and revealed himself to his brothers out of concern for Yaakov's health or upon seeing Yehuda's selflessness.16
"כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי" – Shadal17 interprets that Yosef is expressing gratitude for Hashem having helped him succeed in spite of the troubles his brothers had caused him. However, it is also possible to read this verse as Yosef stating that he no longer is interested in any of his brothers (except for Binyamin).18
Yosef's character – This approach can adopt either of two diametrically opposed options. It can view Yosef as fully assimilated into Egyptian society and thus uninterested in being part of the Children of Israel.19 Alternatively, it can understand Yosef as believing that he and Binyamin were destined together to constitute the chosen nation,20 and that the rest of their brothers would be rejected.
Favoring Binyamin – Yosef gave extra portions and gifts to Binyamin because it was solely with Binyamin that he was interested in reuniting.
Rebating their payments – This position might explain that while Yosef had no desire to reunite with his brothers, he also did not want them to starve. Thus, he returned their monies to ensure that they would be able to buy additional food in the future.
"הָאֱ-לֹהִים מָצָא אֶת עֲוֹן עֲבָדֶיךָ" – Shadal explains that this refers to the crime of taking the goblet. Yehuda either realized the futility of denying responsibility or really believed that Binyamin was culpable.21
Why did Yosef not contact Yaakov immediately? R"Y Bekhor Shor22 and R"Y HeChasid posit that Yosef had previously sworn to his brothers that he would never reveal his identity, as this was their condition for sparing his life from the pit and selling him as a slave. R"Y HeChasid also adds that Yosef was concerned that were he to contact Yaakov, his brothers would flee from their father's home out of utter embarrassment.
Crux of the position – This position paints Yosef as being concerned primarily for his own self interest.23 Yosef does not anticipate Yehuda's self sacrifice, and this may have caused a change in his game plan.

Punishing His Brothers

Yosef's objective was to punish his brothers for their earlier treatment of him. This approach subdivides as to whether Yosef was exacting revenge or merely helping his brothers attain penance for their sins.

Point of the punishment – From Radak it appears that Yosef was simply being vindictive,24 but even he stresses that Yosef took care not to inflict any physical or financial harm on his brothers, but rather only emotional suffering. Most of the other commentators view the suffering which Yosef inflicted on his brothers as part of his attempt to assist them in atoning for their sins.
Measure for measure – Abarbanel and the commentators who follow in his footsteps25 note that the uncomfortable situations in which Yosef placed his brothers correlate to the experiences which they caused him to endure.
"כִּי נַשַּׁנִי אֱ-לֹהִים אֶת כָּל עֲמָלִי וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִי" – Radak interprets this as Yosef declaring that he no longer had any feelings for his family. This is consistent with his understanding that Yosef later tried to cause pain to his brothers. Seikhel Tov, though, explains that Yosef is merely stating that he has forgotten the hardships his family had caused him to endure.
Returning of their payments – Radak explains that these actions were part of the mind games which Yosef was playing with his brothers in order to cause them suffering.
Favoring Binyamin – According to Radak, this was compensation for forcing him to leave his father and come down to Egypt.
"הָאֱ-לֹהִים מָצָא אֶת עֲוֹן עֲבָדֶיךָ" – Seikhel Tov implies that the brothers recognized that they were suffering for the sin of selling Yosef as a slave.
Why did Yosef not contact Yaakov immediately? The Keli Yekar explains that Yosef knew that Yaakov was deserving of punishment for having himself been away from his father for twenty-two years.
Crux of the position – Radak views Yosef as having human frailties and a desire for revenge.26 Most of the other commentators, though, view Yosef as a saintly figure, driven solely by an altruistic desire to help his brothers avoid an even harsher Divine punishment.