The famine in Egypt hits Canaan, as well. When Jacob hears there is food to be purchased in Egypt, he sends his sons, with the exception of Benjamin, to buy some. Upon their arrival, Joseph recognizes them, but they fail to identify him. He demands to know where they come from, and they respond that they have arrived from the Land of Canaan to buy food. He accuses them of spying, and in their defense they tell him their life story. As proof of their words, he demands that they return home and bring back their youngest brother, whom they had said was at home with their father. Initially he says he will hold nine of them hostage while one returns to fetch Benjamin, but in the end he takes only Simeon, sending the rest home. He secretly returns their money to their sacks as they are leaving.
When the brothers stop at an inn on their way home, they discover the money in their sacks and become frightened. They tell their father the whole story, and he is devastated. Having already lost Joseph and Simeon, he refuses to send Benjamin to Egypt, even after Reuben offers the lives of his own two sons as collateral.
The Israel Bible highlights an oddity in the text discussed by many commentators: when Joseph asks only where the brothers have come from, they add to their answer the purpose of their visit, though it should have been obvious to all. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin explains that the brothers were so uncomfortable leaving the Holy Land, that they felt the need to apologize and justify their absence from their spiritual homeland.
Virtual Classroom Discussion
Why do you think the text emphasizes twice that Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not know him?