The Missing Spy

Kli Yakar Genesis: Miketz

The Missing Spy

At first glance, Joseph’s accusation of his brothers of being spies when they show up in Egypt seems ludicrous. Furthermore, the brothers give true and cogent answers that Joseph apparently ignores. It would seem to be a case of heavy-handy tyrannical rule with no sense of justice or defensible rationale.

The Kli Yakar (Genesis 42:9) however interprets each verse and gives us a back and forth of a real trial which Joseph won based on logical accusations and counter-arguments to the brother’s explanations (it also didn’t hurt him to have power on his side).

Joseph accuses the brothers of two different espionage crimes: information gathering, by mixing with merchants and the local population; and reconnoitering, by entering the city from ten different entrances and surveying the city for weak points. They did not deny either act, but gave a different rationale (searching for their missing brother).

I won’t go into all the back and forth, but the linchpin of the argument is that there is a youngest brother still at home (Benjamin). Joseph argues that Benjamin must have also been a spy and went back to report on the interim findings. Therefore the only way to prove the veracity of the brother’s argument would be for Joseph to cross-examine Benjamin personally and find witnesses if he had been in the city previously (presumably spying) or not. The brothers had no way to prove Benjamin had not been there, so therefore they had little choice but to submit to this judgment and eventually bring Benjamin down to Egypt to end the trial and clear their names.

Joseph’s stratagem is successful. The accused missing spy is brought to him and Joseph continues the subterfuge leading to the eventual reconciliation of the children of Jacob.

May all intrigue in our lives have a happy ending.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach,



To the real spies out there defending the State of Israel. Though unlauded, we still appreciate the tremendous service.

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