What inspired the Brothers now to attribute their suffering to their earlier treatment of Yosef? The verse seems to point to the fact they had to bring Binyamin down to Egypt. but how did this precipitate a realization that they had been too cruel to Yosef?
Every single characteristic must be used in its proper measure. In fact in Hebrew, the word for “trait” and the word for “measure” are the same: Middah. A trait is never absolute but needs to be applied in moderation. There is a time and place to be cruel just as there is a time and place to be kind. Normally one would expect to be cruel towards the wicked and kind towards the righteous. In this instance, the Brothers were cognizant that they would have to perpetrate a cruelty toward Yaakov in order to be kind to his entire family. They must take from him his son Binyamin, the only son he still has from his marriage to Rochel, to ensure a continued supply of food for their whole family. The Brothers realized from the fact that they now had to use the Middah of cruelty towards Yaakov, they must have misused this trait in the past. The only misuse of cruelty that they could find was in the circumstance of Yosef’s sale.
What do you need to calibrate? Cruelty or Kindness
Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (C.E. 135 – 219) fondly known to all as “Rebbi” – My Teacher – was once studying Torah outside the Babylonian Synagogue in Sepphoris. A man passed by, leading a calf to slaughter. The calf came over to Rebbi and hid in his robes, as if to plead for its life. “Go” protested Rebbi. “It is for this that you were created!” and he returned the calf to its owner. The Heavenly Court proclaimed “Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.” Heavenly retribution for his hard-hearted response came in the form of a severe kidney stones followed by scurvy. For thirteen years Rebbi suffered.
One day his maid was sweeping the floors of the his house, and she came a across some young weasels, Rebbi noticed she was about to sweep them away, “Leave them be” he commanded. “For it is written ‘His mercies are on all His works’.” At that time, the Heavenly Court proclaimed “Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him”. Rebbi’s pain disappeared, for he had fostered kindness where once he had reacted with thoughtlessness.
One may not write or draw in snow or mud on Shabbos.