Visible And Invisible

The Long-Awaited Meeting   

We continue our journey through this gripping and passionate Bible story: the story of Joseph and his brothers. The day has finally come, the long-awaited moment has arrived when Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt and stand before him – the ten brothers who had nearly murdered him but took enough pity on him to sell him instead. Have you ever contemplated the fact that, even though many years have passed and so many things have happened to Joseph, the reconciliation of the brothers is still the main point of this narrative? Joseph is Viceroy of Egypt, with a brilliant career and a wonderful family of his own, yet the meeting with his brothers is still extremely important to him! Doesn’t this indicate that it is extremely important to God, first of all? We saw something similar in Jacob’s story: Jacob had spent twenty years in exile – so many things had happened and changed in his life – and yet his meeting and reconciliation with his twin brother Esau were so important in God’s eyes that God came to Jacob right before this meeting! Yes, the most important encounter in Jacob’s life, the one that defined his name and destiny and the name and destiny of the whole people – Penuel – happened right before his meeting with Esau (and undoubtedly changed this meeting from how it could have gone, to the amazing story we actually have in the Bible). Something about the reconciliation of brothers is vitally important in God’s eyes: we can clearly see it from Jacob’s life, and even more clearly, we can see it from Joseph’s story!

So, the brothers came. They bowed before Joseph, the Viceroy of Egypt, exactly as it was foretold by his dreams – and he recognized them. However, they did not realize that this Egyptian Viceroy was the brother they had sold some twenty-two years earlier: And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the earth. .Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he acted as a stranger to them and spoke roughly to them.[1]

Of course, this story is amazing even in translation, however, when we read it in Hebrew, we discover something almost incredible: The verb for ‘he recognized them’ (וַיַּכִּרֵם), and the verb for ‘he acted as a stranger to them’ (וַיִּתְנַכֵּר אֲלֵיהֶם), are derived from the same root! Can you imagine? These two actions, not only very different but in a sense completely opposite – “to recognize” and “to disguise” – are expressed with verbs coming from the very same root. It is impossible to translate, and almost impossible to even explain.

This is an exceptionally beautiful example of how multifaceted the Hebrew language is, and how profound His Word is. Biblical Hebrew is primarily a verbal language, and the verbs are derived from three-consonant roots that comprise the “essence” of a word’s meaning. Most of the verbs in Hebrew are formed from a root by changing vowels and adding different prefixes and suffixes, thus forming different stems. Depending on their stem (binyan), verbs derived from the same root can have very different meanings, as we see here in our text. Nevertheless, being derived from the very same root, they all have something in common—they all relate to the very same “essence”.

Back to our story – yes, Joseph made himself a stranger, and yes, he was unrecognizable, and yet, out of his disguise, this amazing root of recognition touches the hearts of the brothers with something painfully familiar. No wonder, from the very first meeting with this Egyptian Viceroy, they knew it was all about their long-ago sold brother, even though there seemed to be no connection at all between the stories.  The Spirit of God is touching their hearts, and their hearts are burning, even though their eyes could not recognize their own brother – and this whole incredible dynamic is reflected in those two Hebrew verbs, opposite in meaning but derived from the same root: hikir – hitnaker.


God’s Logic

We read that Joseph spoke roughly to them, accusing them of being spies and coming to see the nakedness of the land.[2] We must admit that this accusation, as well as what follows, is devoid of any logic, and there is no rational explanation for what we are witnessing. At first glance, all that Joseph says lacks any hint of comprehensibility. Why does he suddenly accuse them of spying? Why does he say to them, in this manner you shall be tested, and this is how it will be seen whether there is any truth in you:[3] bring your brother that is presently not with you. If he is already accusing them, then what could the connection be between the brother left at home and the accusation leveled against them?

But, starting from this moment, an invisible Hand is stealthily getting closer to that deep, dark, and shameful stain that the brothers had concealed all these years, not only from others but from themselves as well. It is as if a game of hot-and-cold begins here – from now on, each scene, each step taken in this story fills their hearts with progressively greater confusion and fright; with each succeeding event, they feel the invisible hand getting “warmer,” slowly but surely nearing that secret, buried spot in their hearts. As unexpected as this accusation might have sounded to them with its subsequent demand to bring their younger brother, it did not appear unreasonable to them. Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.’[4]

Note that they don’t mention God yet; they have yet to understand that none other than the Almighty Himself has made them participants in this game. We still hear impersonal and passive verb forms: this distress has come upon us, and his blood is now required of us (דמו נדרש).[5] They still credit what is happening to the whims and ruthlessness of the Egyptian governor, and consequently to nothing more than an unlucky turn of events, and yet… in their deep inner recesses, a curious spiritual connection between what is happening to them and that long-ago story is already beginning to be revealed…


[1] Gen, 42:6-7

[2] Gen. 2:7,12

[3] Gen. 42:15,16

[4] Gen. 42:21

[5] Gen. 42:22

The insights you read on these pages are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.comAlso, excerpts from my books are included in this article  (and many other posts here), so if you like the articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here.

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (One comment)

Leave a Reply

  1. Gladys

    Thank you Julia ,
    I always enjoy learning from you as you teach with such clarity . I can even sort of understand the word that is difficult to translate .. To me it means that before you can disguise something you must first recognize it in order to know why it needs to be disguised .
    When Joseph first sees his brothers , he must have felt mixed emotions .He must have had mixed feelings of both love and fear that his brothers still hated him . You know the saying ” The best defense is an offense ” .
    Please keep teaching those of us that are too poor to afford the cost of classes . May God Bless you and all those who love you . .