The Bible Says What? The real reason Joseph’s brothers didn’t know who he was

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The Bible Says What? The real reason Joseph’s brothers didn’t know who he was

Rabbi Charley Baginsky looks into Jewish texts and applies a Liberal Jewish response

“Although Joseph recognised his brothers, they did not recognise him.” (Genesis 42:8)

One of the first stories children learn from our Torah is that of Joseph, and one of the most common questions we get as rabbis and parents is why, towards the end when in Egypt, his own brothers didn’t know who he was.

The usual answers given are he looked older, or the brothers’ memories have faded over time, but these are too simplistic

Instead, I look at the Gerer Rebbe’s interpretation that their inability to recognise Joseph had nothing to do with his look or the passing of time, but rather that Egypt in this period was filled with darkness.

This darkness may have been metaphorical, but was nevertheless overwhelming and ensured that people could not recognise another person, even their own sibling.

And yet, the story tells us that Joseph was able to recognise his brothers. He had managed to see light even in the darkest of places and this recognition led to them being finally reunited.

We are now once more living in a time of darkness. Many in our community, and beyond, are struggling with loneliness, anxiety and loss.

It is up to those of us who can, to share some light. We are seeing modern-day heroes emerge – from doctors and nurses to those keeping our essential shops running and collecting our waste. Not to mention all the people doing simple everyday things, such as phone/Skype befriending or getting shopping for a vulnerable neighbour.

And, just as Joseph showed his brothers, such light is the only way to drive out the darkness.

  •  Rabbi Charley Baginsky is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships
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