What is יוסף thinking? The whole interaction with his brothers is very hard to understand, especially for someone we call יוסף הצדיק; it seems more the petty revenge of a spoiled brat. Let’s look at the psukim:
We actually have three questions: why didn’t יוסף write home in the past 22 years (or at least in the past 9 years when he was viceroy), why is he playing these games with his brothers now, and why does יוסף plant the goblet on בנימן?
Nechama Leibowitz, in in her Gilyon for מקץ תש״ז discusses this problem.
The simplest approach would seem to be that of the רמב״ן. First he notes the comment that רש״י makes about the first time יוסף sees his brothers:
And רש״ has a very difficult answer for why he never tried to contact his family:
So רמב״ן assumes that all of יוסף's actions were to fulfill his dreams. He doesn’t phone home because he knows that the first dream has to have all his brothers bowing to him, and only then can his father come down and bow as well (the reason for the goblet trick remains to be seen).
All the other commentators pile on him for this explanation, for two reasons. The first is his assumption that the first dream must involve all 11 brothers, including בנימן, and therefore when only 10 of them appear before him, it doesn’t count. רש״י clearly says it does, and when we look at the dream closely it looks like רש״י is right. The reason that we think it has to be all 11 brothers is because we’ve seen the musical:
But that’s not what it says:
The second, larger, question is how could יוסף cause 22 years of anguish to his father in order to make a dream—even one at the level of נבואה—come true? It’s our job to obey the commandments of ה׳, and let ה׳ take care of the predictions.
Nechama Leibowitz dismisses this complaint by bringing examples of prophecies in תנ״ך that people actively worked to make happen, most notably שיבת ציון, when בני ישראל didn’t wait for a miraculous restoration of the בית המקדש, they went ahead and built it. (One assumes there’s a little contemporary political subtext there, about the current שיבת ציון and whether is can be ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו).
But that’s clearly not right; the Jews returned to ארץ ישראל because it was the right thing to do; the prophecy only reassured them that they were successful. There is no obligation to make a prophecy come true; יעקב didn’t look at the ברית בין הבתרים and start looking for a nation to be exiled to.
As for the goblet, the רמב״ן offers the explanation that it was a chance for the brothers to do תשובה:
But this has the same objections: what gave יוסף the right to force them into such a situation? He’s not G-d; he can’t torture them for their own good.
Rav Yoel Bin Nun of the Herzog Teachers' College in the Gush had an essay in the first issue of Megadim where he proposes an answer that addresses all of these questions.
The first step is understanding what יוסף thought of his kidnapping and sale:
He clearly did not literally forget his father’s house; he mentioned it explicitly! It must mean that he was able to put it out of his mind, not dwell on it. But how could be be thankful that he isn’t thinking of his family? What happened to אם אשכחך ירושלם תשכח ימיני?
Rav Bin Nun points out that יוסף has no idea what happened after he was sold. As far as he can tell, his father sent him to שכם to his brothers, who sold him into slavery, and then no one came looking for him. The only logical conclusion is that יעקב agreed (or at least acquiesced, as with the slaughter of שכם) the sale. Just as the brothers thought he was trying to write them out of the chosen people, now he was being written out, perhaps as a punishment for יבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם. He never wrote home because home never wrote to him. He had no way of knowing that יעקב thought him dead.
So after 13 years, he thanks ה׳ for giving him a chance to start over, בארץ עניי, without despairing about what might have been. As Rabbi Leibtag puts it:
Then after 22 years, his brothers reappear, and now, ויזכר יוסף את החלמות. Those little-kid dreams actually came true! But בנימין isn’t there. His immediate suspicion is that בנימין, too, has been rejected, as the other בן רחל. So he accuses the brothers of being spies (this prevents them from asking around Egypt about him, which might lead them to figure out the truth) in order to get בנימין down to Egypt, both to find out what happened and to protect him from the other brothers. He presumably assumes that they would return to כנען and come back to Egypt immediately; he wasn’t counting on יעקב delaying them, effectively rejecting שמעון for בנימין.
When they come back, he sees that בנימין is alive, but he still doesn’t have the whole story. He still worries for בנימין‘s safety, and creates the goblet ruse to get him in Egypt away from everyone else. The משך חכמה points out that יוסף specifically chose the goblet אשר ישתה אדני בו והוא נחש ינחש בו, that he uses for divination, as a way to make the crime more reasonable. בנימין wasn’t stealing it for the money; he was trying to protect his new friend צפנת פענח from the sin of נחש, just as his mother stole her father’s טרפים. The brothers would accept בנימין’s guilt, and יוסף would have an excuse to pardon him after he comes back.
It’s only in next week’s parasha when יהודה says (בראשית מד:כז-כט) ויאמר עבדך אבי אלינו: אתם ידעתם כי שנים ילדה לי אשתי׃ ויצא האחד מאתי ואמר אך טרף טרף; ולא ראיתיו עד הנה׃ does יוסף learn that he has been wrong; his father did not reject him but thought him dead and lost forever. It is a that moment that he breaks down and reveals himself.
It’s an attractive theory that really does answer a lot of the difficulties in the text. It created a fair amount of controversy in Megadim over the next few issues, but what I like is that it ties together so many disparate ideas in ספר בראשית and makes the story of יוסף and his brothers part of the overarching theme of בחירה and ברכה.