This Shabbos we read Parshas Vayigash. The Parsha begins with the dramatic revelation of Joseph to his brothers. Joseph, after having aroused the jealousy of his brothers many years earlier by interpreting their dreams to show that he would rule over them, had been sold by them into slavery for 22 years. In a stunning chain of events, Joseph became the viceroy of Egypt, having successfully interpreted the dreams of King Pharaoh to be warning of an impending famine. Due to the actions of Joseph, Egypt amassed a huge stockpile of food, and became the supplier of the entire region during this famine. The brothers were sent by Jacob to buy food in Egypt. Joseph realized that this was the moment to bring his earlier prophesies come true, and he had his goblet planted in the bag of food in the possession of the youngest brother, Benjamin. When he “caught” Benjamin with the goblet, he told the brothers that he was going to keep Benjamin as a slave for stealing from him, but that they were free to return to Jacob. When the brothers heard this they told Joseph that they could not leave Benjamin in Egypt when they returned to Jacob in Israel, for it would cause too much pain to Jacob. The very life of Jacob could be taken away from the great pain of losing Benjamin. The Torah tells us that when Joseph heard this from them, “he could not hold in and he called out ‘Remove all men from here!” (Genesis 45:1). Once all the Egyptians had left, Joseph proceeded to reveal to his brothers who he really was. The Sages explain that Joseph understood that the moment he revealed himself to his brothers would be a very embarrassing moment to them. Here they are facing the very person who they took away from his father for 22 years, and now he is a position to do whatever he wants to them. Joseph did not want his brothers to be subjected to this embarrassment, so he insisted on making sure that no other people were present when he revealed who he was to his brothers.
The famed Mussar personality, Rav Leib Chasman teaches us two important ethical lessons that we learn from this episode. Our Sages point out that there was a very real danger in what Joseph did. At the moment when everyone else left the room, they still did not know that he was their brother Joseph. The only thing they did know about him was that he was the person who was threatening to keep their youngest brother as a slave, and to potentially cause their father Jacob to die in pain. Certainly, they may have decided to just quietly kill Joseph when they were alone with him and to leave. If that happened aside from losing his life, Joseph would never have been reunited with his father Jacob. Nevertheless, to avoid embarrassing his brothers, he took that chance and ordered everyone in the room to leave.
Another point to ponder: The Torah tells us that Joseph could not hold himself back from telling his brothers who he was. Nonetheless, as overcome with emotion as he was, he held himself back until all the Egyptians left so as not to cause his brothers embarrassment.
The beautiful lesson that we learn from this is how carful we must be with the feelings of others. If we could learn from the behavior of Joseph, and avoid ever afflicting shame or disgrace on others, we certainly can help bring more peace and harmony to our families, to our community, and to all of Israel.