The Brothers’ First Visit to Egypt

Genesis 42:1-38

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?

Comments ( 3 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bible™.

  • The fact that the brothers mentioned the purpose of their coming (totally redundant) brought Joseph these thoughts that this must be a good reason from his side to accuse them of spying out the country though they came for food.(of course) But the twice mentioning that they were spies must be a counterpart of him recognizing his brothers, so that other Egyptians did not think he was favouring these foreigners. Moreover he was the first to recognize his brothers, in case of attack from them he was the first and was alert.

  • I agree with you SueJean. I also think it is to show the spiritual blindness they (the brothers) still had all this time. It is until Yoseph tells them who he is and that it was Yahweh's will that they get to see spiritually.

  • 7 And Yosef saw his brethren, and he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spoke roughly with them; and he said unto them: ‘Whence come ye?’ And they said: ‘From the land of Canaan to buy food.’
    ז וַיַּרְא יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וַיַּכִּרֵם וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם וַיְדַבֵּר אִתָּם קָשׁוֹת וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֵאַיִן בָּאתֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן לִשְׁבָּר אֹכֶל.
    8 And Yosef knew his brethren, but they knew him not. ח וַיַּכֵּר יוֹסֵף אֶת אֶחָיו וְהֵם לֹא הִכִּרֻהוּ.
    My first consideration was that there were two different words given in Hebrew that are both translated as "knew", but have slightly different connotations about "knowing something or someone". However, the Hebrew word (nakar) is the same in both verses.
    After much discussion, we believe the explanation comes in verse 9 for what "Yosef knew" in verse 8. It says that "he remembered" in verse 9.
    Understanding that Moshe recorded no redundant or superfluous words in the Torah, I think in verse 7 that Yosef "knew" his brothers in that, he looked up and saw them and recognized them as his brothers in spite of all the years that had passed between them.
    In verse 8, I think that Yosef "knew" his brothers as the full memory of all that had passed between him and his brothers leading up to them selling him into slavery to the Midianites came flooding back to his mind and he was fully aware of the nature of their characters (as they had been in the past). Therefore, he resolves to devise a serious of tests for them to determine if they had undergone any improvement in the way that they treated each other and eventually would treat him.
    Since the brothers weren't able to achieve the first "knowing", there was no way for them to move to the second level. First, they didn't have any expectation to run into their brother, especially as one being the second in command of all Egypt and secondly, he was dressed as an Egyptian and was no longer a teenager, but a full grown man. That's enough to throw anybody off when so much time has passed.
    Baruch Hashem

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