Yesterday, we noted the view of the Midrash Tanchuma that when Yosef’s goblet was discovered in Binyamin’s bag, his brothers assumed that he had indeed stolen the goblet. They angrily called him “thief, son of a thief,” a reference to the fact that his mother, Rachel, had stolen her father’s cherished religious articles under somewhat similar circumstances as Binyamin’s alleged theft.
This account also appears in a different Midrashic source, Bereishit Rabba (92:8), which records Binyamin’s response to his brothers’ charge. In contrast to the Midrash Tanchuma praises Binyamin for remaining silent in the face of his brothers’ false accusation of theft, asserting that the Beit Ha-mikdash was built in Binyamin’s territory in reward for his silence in the face of suspicion, Bereishit Rabba tells of a tense exchange between Binyamin and his brothers. After his brothers accused him of stealing the goblet, the Midrash tells, Binyamin replied, “The person of Yosef is here; the goats are here; the brothers who sold their brother are here.” While Binyamin’s response is not entirely clear, it has been suggested that according to this account, Binyamin responded to his brothers’ harsh accusation by turning around and accusing them of framing him. He told them that just as they conspired to eliminate Yosef – Rachel’s older child – from the family, they were likewise now conspiring to eliminate Binyamin – Rachel’s younger child. The goblet, Binyamin charged, was the parallel to the goat which the brothers had slaughtered after selling Yosef to make it appear as though Yosef had been killed by a beast. He accused the brothers of planting the goblet in his bag so he would be charged with theft and kept as a slave in Egypt – just as they had sold Yosef as a slave in Egypt. (This explanation of the Midrash’s comments is suggested by the Beit Ha-levi.)
The Midrash’s account underscores how the brothers’ situation as they stood before Yosef in Egypt marked the reversal – and hence, the rectification – of the sale of Yosef some twenty years earlier. Yosef essentially arranged a situation whereby his brothers had the precise same opportunity as they had on that fateful day when he went to see them as they shepherded their father’s herds. Now as then, they had the opportunity to eliminate their father’s favored son whom they resented, the son of his favorite wife, Rachel, and to conceal their crime. When Yosef came to the brothers, they sold him as a slave and pretended he was killed by an animal; now, they could have had Binyamin taken as a slave in Egypt and pretended that this happened because he stole a precious article. And, according to the Midrash, this is precisely what Binyamin thought was happening. Regardless, the brothers had the perfect opportunity to repeat the crime of mekhirat Yosef, only this time, they did the opposite, as Yehuda selflessly pleaded on Binyamin’s behalf. Whether or not this was Yosef’s intention is subject to a good deal of discussion and debate among the commentators. What is clear, however, is that Yehuda’s plea to Yosef, and his courageous insistence that he be kept as a slave in Binyamin’s place, demonstrates the process of repentance which the brothers had undergone, and that they would never again consider betraying their brother – even a brother whom they had reason to suspect of theft.