Why did Yehudah think that Yosef might get angry?
(44,18) “Then Yehudah approached him and said: Please my lord, let your servant speak something in my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, because like you, like Pharaoh.”
Rashi explains that “for like you, like Pharaoh” means that just like Pharaoh makes decrees and doesn’t keep them (Pharaoh decreed that a slave may not become a ruler, and yet he made Yosef a ruler), so too you make decrees and do not keep them (you said originally that you merely wished to set eyes on Binyomin, and now you want to retain him as a slave). What does Rashi mean to explain and from where did he learn to explain this way?
It seems to me that Rashi realised that it should have said “for you are like Pharaoh”, and since it did not Rashi understood that he was not saying to Yosef not to get angry because he was like Pharaoh, in which case the message would have been that he was too great to get angry over such a minor matter, but rather it was a very different message:
Yehudah was worried that Yosef would get angry at him, calling him fickle, constantly changing what he said. In the beginning he said that whomsoever the goblet was found with would die, and the rest of them would be slaves. Then when the goblet was found in the sack of Binyomin, he said to Yosef that all of them would be slaves, including Binyomin. And when Yosef responded leniently and said that only the one with whom the goblet was found would become his slave and the rest of them could return home to their father, Yehudah now began to request that he should send all of them home, including Binyomin. Thus, Yehudah changed what he said twice - first saying that Binyomin should be a slave rather than die, and now he was requesting that he should be sent home. Such behaviour, not to stand by one’s word, is unacceptable even with other people, all the more so in front of the king.
Therefore, he said to Yosef “let your servant speak something in my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant”, because I don’t stand by my word, “because like you, like Pharaoh” - because I am like you and Pharaoh. Just like both of you make decrees and do not fulfil them, therefore I too, your servant, do the same. Even though I originally said that everyone should become slaves, I can now change my mind.
Where do we find that Yosef asked his brothers if they had a father or brother?
(44,19) “My lord asked his servants, saying: Have you a father or a brother?”
But where do we find that Yosef asked his brothers if they had a father or brother? On the contrary, they themselves voluntarily told him that they had an elderly father.
But the meaning is that Yehudah was concerned that Yosef might say that his current claim - that we have an elderly father and he loves Binyomin exceedingly fiercely, and he will die when he sees that Binyomin is not with them - is a complete lie, and he is only saying it in order to save his brother from slavery. Therefore Yehudah wanted to demonstrate to him that he was speaking the truth.
This is what he was saying to Yosef: True, had Yosef himself asked them if they had a father or brother it is possible that they would have lied, because they would have been worried that perhaps he would command them to bring their father or their brother. Therefore they may have lied saying that their father was very old, implying that he could not make the journey, and their brother was too beloved by their father to leave him. But since he did not ask them at all but instead they had volunteered the information, this shows that they are certainly speaking the truth. According to this, Yehudah is not making a statement, rather he is asking a rhetorical question - “Did my lord ask his servants saying: Have you a father or a brother?”. You did not ask us at all!
With this we can understand why he said “have you a father or a brother”, and not more briefly "a father and brother", because he was saying to Yosef: Not only did you not ask about both of them but you did not ask even about one of them, but rather “we said to my lord: We have an old father and a young child of his old age”. We volunteered both pieces of information, and so we are certainly telling the truth.
Why could Yehudah not have claimed adverse circumstances to free him from his obligation as a guarantor of Binyomin’s safety?
(44,19) “My lord asked his servants, saying: have you a father or a brother?”
Rashi explained that Yehudah was saying to Yosef: From the beginning you were plotting against us. Why did you have to ask us all these questions? Were we seeking to marry your daughter, or were you seeking to marry our sister?
At first glance Rashi is difficult to understand, because Yehudah’s main argument right now is that when Ya’akov sees that the lad is gone he will die. So what difference does is make if Yosef had been plotting against them from the beginning. Also, why did he not instead state the main issue, which was that the charge of theft of Yosef’s goblet was a plot.
But the reason Yehudah got involved in saving Binyomin more than his brothers was, as he himself said, because he was a guarantor for his brother’s safe return. Now, the rule is that in cases of adverse circumstances a person is freed from his obligation. The only exception to this rule is if those adverse circumstances could have been foreseen in advance, in which case a person has to stipulate that if such a circumstance will occur, then he wishes to be freed from his obligation. Otherwise he will remain obligated.
Thus said Yosef to Yehudah: You are freed from your obligation as a guarantor, because you never accepted upon yourself Binyomin’s safety if he would steal, and thereby jeopardise himself. And even if you say that he did not steal, but rather it is all a false plot, even so, this is also an adverse circumstance and one which is not common, and as such it is not something which should have occurred to you from the beginning and which would have required you to stipulate against. Therefore, you are completely free from your obligation as a guarantor.
To this Yehudah responded: From the beginning you plotted against us by your questions about our father and brother, and therefore since we knew from the beginning that you were planning a false charge against us it was something which should have occurred to me, and which I should have stipulated against if I had wanted to be free of my obligation. And since I did not I cannot claim adverse circumstances, and therefore my claim that I am a guarantor for the safe return of Binyomin is valid.
What was Ya’akov’s advice to his sons to enable them to return to Egypt without Binyomin?
(44,24) “And it was, when we went up to your servant, my father, and we told him the words of my lord. And our father said: Go back, buy us a little food. But we said: We cannot go down; if our youngest brother is with us we will go down, for we cannot see the man’s face if our youngest brother is not with us.”
It says here that when they went home, they told their father “the words of my lord”, yet it does not continue with what Ya’akov responded at that time (42:36), but instead seems to continue with what Ya’akov said at a later date, when the first purchase of grain had been consumed (43:2).
However, the meaning of these posukim is that Ya’akov thought that Yosef’s insistence that they bring their younger brother in order to prove that they were not spies was only if the brothers had already returned home and then returned to Egypt without their brother. Then he would stand by his claim that they were spies since they could have brought Binyomin and did not. But as long as they were still travelling Yosef would not get angry with them for not bringing him since they had not yet returned home.
Therefore, Ya’akov reasoned with them as follows: It is the way of merchants that when they buy a lot of merchandise from one particular vendor they don’t spend all their money out of concern that they might need to purchase something else elsewhere. But when they are ready to travel home and they see that they have already bought everything and yet they still have some money left, then they return to their major supplier and buy more of his merchandise.
Therefore, Ya’akov advised that they should immediately return to Yosef but they should not purchase a lot of grain, because if they did he would realise that they had already returned home - since they had already purchased a large amount the only reason that they are buying another large amount is because they have been home, and so he would immediately challenge them about Binyomin. Thus, Ya’akov said to them “go back, buy for us a little food” - implying that they had not yet returned home but rather they had remained in Egypt and bought other things, and now that they still had some money remaining they had come to purchase some more grain before returning home. Hence Yosef would not realise that they had already been home.
But Yehudah replied that the matter does not depend on their returning home, but rather Yosef had decreed “we cannot see the man’s face if our youngest brother is not with us”, even if they were still in Egypt. If so, it is impossible to come before Yosef without their brother.
This is what Yehudah is relating to Yosef: See how our intention is only to fulfil your wishes and not in any way to deceive you. Because the truth is that “you said to your servants: If your youngest brother does not come down with you, you will not see my face again”, which implies that only if we come down to Egypt afresh and we don’t bring our brother, then we cannot see your face. But as long as we are still present in Egypt, then it is permissible to come before you even without our brother. Therefore, “when we went up to your servant, my father, and we told him the words of my lord”, he realised that we could return to you, and so he said “go back, buy for us a little food” and thereby Yosef will not realise that you have already retuned home.
But we did not wish to deceive you, and therefore we said to him “we cannot see the man’s face if our youngest brother is not with us”, even if we haven’t returned home yet, even though you yourself only said “if your youngest brother does not come down with you”. We did everything in order to fulfil your wishes, faithfully, without any deception, and yet you are now coming against us with a false libel of theft!
With this we can understand the connection between the two posukim in parshas Mikeitz “And the famine was severe in the land. And it was, when they had finished the grain that they had brought from Egypt, that their father said to them: Go back, buy for us a little food”. Why was it necessary for the Torah to tell us that the famine was severe as a preface for the ensuing discussion between Ya’akov and his sons?
But it seems that the Torah is pre-empting a question that we might ask, that if Ya’akov is telling them this a short time after they had returned home in order that Yosef would not realise that they had returned home, how could the Torah say that they had finished the grain in such a short time. And if it was a long time, enough to finish all the grain, then Yosef would certainly know that they had been home, so for what purpose did their father tell them to buy a small amount of grain.
But we can explain that really it was only a short time after their return from Egypt. However, even though they had bought enough grain to last them a long time based on the estimation of their families’ needs during normal times, nevertheless, in a short space of time their large amount of grain was finished. Because, “the famine was very severe in the land”, and due to the severity of the famine and because it is natural during a famine to eat more than normal, or maybe because there were many more poor people due to the severe famine and the children of Yitzchok and Ya’akov could not see the hunger of their poor brethren and so they gave to them from their own supply - either way, their large supply of grain was consumed very quickly.
Consequently Ya’akov was able to say to them that in a short time such as this Yosef would not realise that they had returned home. Therefore, they should go now and buy only a small amount of grain, in order that Yosef will think that they had lingered in Egypt, like we explained earlier. This is why the Torah had to tell us that the famine was severe.
What exactly had Yehudah guaranteed to Ya’akov concerning Binyamin?
(44,32) “For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy from my father, saying: If I do not bring him to you, I will have sinned against my father forever.”
One of the many well known questions on this posuk is that since Yehudah said “If I will not bring him to you”, it implies that he was relating to Yosef the exact words that he said to his father. If so, he should not have said "I will have sinned against my father", but rather "I will have sinned against you". Alternatively, he could have said the first part in the third person - "If I will not bring him to him". But it seems to me that the explanation is as follows:
Behold, since Yehudah continued “so now, please let your servant stay instead of the lad as a slave to my lord, and may the lad go up with his brothers”, Yosef would surely have asked himself what Yehudah gained by this suggestion. Because he has just told Yosef that he had guaranteed that he will bring Binyamin home, and so if he would be a slave in place of Binyamin and thus not be able to bring him home himself, he would still not have fulfilled his guarantee. If so, Yosef would have ample reason to disbelieve the whole matter of the guarantee, and say to him: How can you say that “your servants will have brought the hoary head of your servant, our father, in grief to the grave”? None of you are obligated in the matter!
Therefore, Yehudah said to Yosef that I am a guarantor for Binyamin’s safety, but only for the trip down to Egypt, because this was Ya’akov’s only worry, as he himself said in parshas Mikeitz (42:38) concerning Binyamin: “and if misfortune befalls him on the way which you are going”. And it seems that the reason why he was not worried about the return trip from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael, was because he trusted that the merit of the forfathers would stand for him to save Binyamin from misfortune. And especially as going from the outside to Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah he was sure nothing bad would happen to him.
But about the outward trip Ya’akov was worried, because Chazal taught that one who goes from Eretz Yisrael to somewhere else, even the merit of the forefathers will not stand for him. This is so even though he was going because of famine, as we learn from Avimelech who was punished for leaving Eretz Yisreal during a time of famine. Thus Ya’akov said “and if misfortune befalls him on the way which you are going” - since it is the outward trip there is good reason to be concerned that a misfortune might occur.
This is what Yehudah is saying here, that he was a guarantor only “if I do not bring him to you”, that is, to Yosef, then “I will have sinned to my father all of my days”. But if I bring him to you, then on the return trip I am exempt from being a guarantor. However, if he will die it will be considered as having happened through me, because he accepted my guarantee for the outward trip and without that he would not have sent him. Thus, I would be considered the cause of his death. But since I am not a guarantor for the return trip “let your servant stay in place of the lad”, and then I will have fulfilled my guarantee and he will return home by himself. Examine this well, because it is correct.
And with this we can understand the Midrash on the posuk "then Yehudah approached him", which comments on the posukim in Mishlei 6:1 “My son, if you have become a guarantor for your friend” - this is Yehudah, who said (43:9) “I will guarantee him”, “have given your hand for a stranger” - said Yehudah, “from my hand you can demand him”, “you have been trapped by the sayings of your mouth” - “if I do not bring him to you”, “do this my son and be saved…go and humble yourself, and give your fellow superiority”, by accepting his kingship and lordship - “then Yehudah approached him and said: Please, my lord…for you are like Pharaoh” (44;18). What point is the Midrash making with this exposition?
According to what I wrote above, that Ya’akov was only worried about the going but not about the returning, if so, since this misfortune of Yosef’s pretext occurred on the return trip, Yehudah’s guarantee that he gave to his father did not apply to it. But in truth, Yehudah had become trapped with the words of his mouth, because he had said “if I do not bring him to you, and stand him before you”. Thus he had openly declared that he had accepted responsibility for him also on the return trip. And although Yehudah said to Yosef that he was only a guarantor for the going and not for the returning, he had specifically said this to Yosef because he was afraid that if he would tell him the truth that he was a guarantor also for the return trip, Yosef would say to him that if so, what is the point of saying “let your servant be in place of the lad”, since by doing so you still would not have fulfilled your guarantee, as I explained above. But to his father he said explicitly “if I do not bring him to you”, and so he guaranteed also his return.
Now, one who guarantees a dowry, there are some poskim that hold that an ordinary guarantor is not liable to pay even if there is a shortfall in the dowry, because since he did a mitzvah by enabling the bride to get married he did not obligate himself to pay. Therefore, he is required to be a guarantor kablan if the side of the bridegroom want an effective guarantor. (An ordinary guarantor has to pay up only if the debtor is first approached and is unable to pay, whereas a guarantor kablan can be approached by the creditor without first asking the debtor to pay).
Here also, since acting as a guarantor for Binyamin was a very great mitzvah since everyone needed food and were dying in the famine, and there is no greater mitzvah than saving someone who is in danger of his life, therefore the guarantee of Yehudah was not fitting to be effective, and he should never have been obligated in this at all. However, Yehudah was a guarantor kablan, because he said “from my hand you can demand it”, and so it is like one who says to a person to give money to a person in need and he will reimburse the creditor. And with a guarantor kablan the guarantee is effective even for a mitzvah, as we explained.
This is what the Midrash is coming to explain. Because Rashi wrote that the reason Yehudah got involved more than the other brothers was because he was a guarantor of the matter. But this is problematic, because he could have exempted himself from the guarantee for two reasons. Firstly, because he was doing a mitzvah and so the guarantee is not effective, and secondly, because Ya’akov only asked for a guarantee for the outward trip, and this misfortune occurred only on the return trip.
Therefore, the Midrash answers: “my son if you have become a guarantor for your friend, have given your hand for a stranger” - you said “from my hand you can demand him”, and so you are a guarantor kablan. If so, the first reason falls away because now even in the case of a mitzvah the guarantee is effective. And you also cannot say the second reason, that you were not a guarantor for the return trip and the misfortune occurred on the return trip, because “you were entrapped by the words of your mouth” - because you said “if I do not bring him to you”. Thus you accepted to be a guarantor even for the return trip. Therefore, “go and humble yourself and give your fellow superiority” - you have no other option but to accept his kingship and lordship and to appease him.