There is a Mitzva in the Torah to give another person the benefit of the doubt. Yet, in this week’s Parsha we find an instance when the brothers did not give Yosef the benefit of the doubt. After they returned to Egypt following the burial of their father Ya’akov in the Me’aras Hamachpeila, the Torah teaches us, “And the brothers of Yosef saw that their father had died, and they said, ‘Perhaps Yosef will hate us and he will surely pay us back all the evil that we did to him.’”
Why did the brothers suspect Yosef would hate them? The Midrash says because Yosef no longer invited them to dine with him. They assumed that they had been invited before, only because their father Ya’akov was alive. Yosef did not want to hurt his father. Now, that reason no longer applied.
However, the brothers did not consider the real reason behind Yosef’s behavior. Rashi comments that the subjugation in Egypt really began when Ya’akov died. However, it was not on the scale that it would come later. The Maharal of Prague explains that Yosef did not want to show his brothers too much favoritism at this time because he was afraid of a backlash that would occur from the Egyptians. They wouldn't take too kindly to Yosef showing favoritism to Jews, even if they were his brothers. Yosef knew that this could have a detrimental effect on his brothers and their families. So, he avoided giving them special treatment. Nowhere do we see that Yosef’s brothers even considered this perspective as a reason for Yosef’s behavior.
It is so important to give others the benefit of the doubt. Over the past few weeks, we have seen several instances when the family of Ya’akov had this opportunity to judge another person favorably. At times they seemed to do so, while at other times, they seemed to have missed the opportunity.
Ya’akov gave Yosef a special coat. The brothers did not look favorably on that gift and their family’s troubles spiraled downward. On the other hand, when Yosef gave Binyomin more gifts than he gave to his other brothers, the brothers did not object. Among his grandchildren, we find that Ya’akov only gave a special bracha to Yosef’s children. Once again, it seems the brothers judged Ya’akov favorably for we do not find any objection coming from them. Each brother received a different bracha from Ya’akov and not one brother objected or displayed any form of jealousy towards his other brothers.
Even though we think we know everything that goes on behind the scenes, the truth is that we often don’t know. The Rabbis teach us that one who judges others favorably, G-d will give that person a favorable judgment. It can be difficult. However, giving another person the benefit of the doubt builds character as a positive person and leaves a favorable impression upon others. This is one lesson of the story of Yosef and his brothers whose meaning is certainly applicable to our lives today.