During the entire time that the brothers met with Joseph in Egypt, they were completely unable to recognize him for who he was. It’s quite unbelievable. This viceroy was clearly not of Egyptian origin. He looked exactly like their father, Jacob. They knew that their brother might have ended up in Egypt. He took an abnormal amount of interest in them, giving them grain for nothing. He invited them to a banquet and seated them in order of birth. He was almost too eager to hear tidings of their father and just dying to meet their brother Benjamin (the only one who was Joseph’s full brother).
This incredible amount of strange coincidences all added up, quite obviously, to one conclusion: The “Egyptian” viceroy was in fact Joseph, the brother they had sold to slavery. And yet they did not see it.
The Sages tell us that if we do not wish to face reality, it can stare us in the face and we will not see it. If we desire something not to be so, it will not be so. And all the evidence in the world will not change our minds. That is the nature of human beings. We have a frightening propensity to rationalize and convince ourselves that we are honestly seeing reality, when deep down we know we are not.
Joseph had some dreams and the brothers sold him into slavery. They looked at the dreams as delusions of grandeur, rather than prophetic visions. Here, before them, the dreams were becoming reality. They had clearly been wrong in their judgment of Joseph, and horribly wrong to sell him as a slave. This was something they could not bring themselves to accept. It was too painful a realization. This man before them, therefore, could not possibly be Joseph, no matter how much evidence pointed to the contrary.
It happens to us, too. How often do we convince ourselves that things are true because we want them to be, or not true because we do not? The message of this week’s Torah portion is clear. Reality always stares us in the face. We do not need to be able to see it. We need to be willing to see it.
Rabbi Ken Alter