Miketz: Hidden Treasures
Post-Parsha Points: Miketz
The story of Joseph and his brothers continues in parshas miketz, ending with a cliffhanger which easily rivals the old movie serials for sheer nail-biting tension. A key dramatic element of this week's events was Joseph's surreptitious return of the money from his brothers' grain purchase (Gen 42:25). The Torah doesn't provide any obvious motive for this odd ploy, and nearly all of the meforshim seem to pass it over as well.
In discussing it this Shabbos, we came up with four plausible explanations of Joseph's actions. Actually, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive; they could well have been parallel motivations, all part of his grand strategy.
1) Joseph was trying to confuse and agitate his brothers, keeping them off guard, wondering what would happen next, and fearful that the money would be used as a pretext to arrest them - as they indeed did suspect later. This incentive would be somewhat punitive, a mild form of payback by Joseph for his brothers' earlier actions towards him.
2) Conversely, the return of the money could simply have been a family courtesy - Joseph not wanting to charge his own father for food! In this light, it can be seen as a hint by Joseph of his true identity - as we are later told he did once again by seating the brothers in age order (Gen 43:33). In both cases, the brothers reacted with confusion and amazement, but didn't pick up the clue at all.
3) Joseph's overall plan was to test his brothers as to whether they had repented from their earlier actions culminating in his own kidnapping and sale. Now, in Joseph's view, the brothers could have been two motives for this offense; greed, for the money they received, and jealousy, for their father's preferential treatment of Joseph. Therefore, by secretly returning his brothers' money here, he was testing whether the first of those possible flaws, greed, was still present. The later framing of Benjamin was then a test of the second issue, filial jealousy.
4) Finally, as just mentioned, the climax of Joseph's scheme was to determine whether the brothers would stand up for Benjamin, be willing to sacrifice themselves in his stead despite his now having become the favored child that Joseph himself had been earlier. But when he falsely implicated Benjamin in the theft of the cup to set up this ultimate test, Joseph also had to make sure that the brothers wouldn't have even the slightest doubt that their brother might actually be guilty. Therefore, he planted similar false evidence on them as well, so that they would be certain that no thievery had taken place.