The terrible famine brought ten of Jacob’s sons before the viceroy of Egypt to purchase bread. The viceroy, who, unbeknownst to them, was their brother Joseph whom they sold as a slave, accused them of being spies and demanded that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt. Before Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he framed Benjamin by planting his silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag and charging Benjamin with theft. Judah stood up for Benjamin, requesting that he himself be punished instead of Benjamin. Joseph then revealed his identity to his brothers, and the extended family was reunited with Joseph in Egypt.

The conventional understanding is that the entire plot of Joseph and his brothers serves to explain how the Jewish people came to live in Egypt and how they eventually became enslaved to the Egyptians. The Kabbalistic reading is precisely the opposite. Every step that Joseph took was, in reality, paving the way, not for the eventual enslavement, but rather for the spiritual fortification of the Jews in exile, which would ultimately lead to the redemption.

From the mystical perspective, in order for their descendants to survive the harsh exile, Joseph’s brothers, who were the heads of the tribes of Israel, had to experience the oppression and accusations of the Egyptian monarch, who was, in truth, their brother in disguise. When the Jewish people, like their ancestors before them, would feel subjected to the Egyptian monarch, they would remember the story of Joseph and realize that there was a deeper reality in play. The oppressive monarch was in reality their “brother,” who would ultimately bring benefit to them. The exile was a process that would refine them and lead them to great material and spiritual wealth.

In addition to physical subjugation, exile also has a spiritual dimension. When we are in exile, we are not in our natural environment. We are living a life that is not consistent with our inner core. Our natural, inherent awareness of G‑d and connection to the spirituality of our inner soul is compromised, as our emotions and aspirations are directed exclusively to our physical survival.

Joseph empowered the Jewish people to overcome the spiritual numbness that is exile.

The Torah describes how Joseph had Benjamin framed:

Then he commanded the overseer of his house, saying, "Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money into the mouth of his sack. And my goblet, the silver goblet, put into the mouth of the sack of the youngest, and his purchase money." And he did according to Joseph's word, which he had spoken.1

According to the mystics, the silver goblet represents passionate love and joy. The Hebrew word for silver (kesef) is the same word that means “yearning” and “longing.” The goblet contains wine, which, as the verse says, brings joy to the heart of man.2

Joseph’s planting the goblet in Benjamin’s sack empowers us to realize that hidden within us is a “goblet of wine,” the capacity to have a loving, joyful relationship with G‑d. Joseph reminds us that we can dispel the darkness of exile by searching for the hidden reservoirs of positive emotions planted within us. When we discover the goblet and taste the wine, the spiritual exile dissolves, paving the way for the physical redemption as well.3