This week’s Torah reading relates how Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers and asked them to bring his father Jacob down to Egypt.

An obvious question is raised by the entire story of Joseph and his brothers: Joseph was 17 years old when sold into slavery. It is true that he was in Egypt for 13 years, but still 17 years are a long time. Why didn’t the brothers recognize Joseph after having lived with him for so long? As Rashi comments, in Egypt he matured into manhood, and had grown a beard. Nevertheless, that should not be so great a factor to prevent his brothers from recognizing him.

To resolve this question, we have to understand the difference between the spiritual makeup of Joseph and that of his brothers. Joseph’s brothers were shepherds - as were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before them. Why did they choose this profession? Because caring for sheep does not involve constant activity or tension-producing interpersonal relationship. One spends much time in the fields and there is the opportunity for contemplation. In such a setting, a person can stay in touch with the spiritual.

Now the brothers knew that Joseph was spiritually oriented, indeed, more so than they were. It was not for nothing that Jacob had singled him out for personal attention. When they saw a man busily involved with running Egypt’s entire economy, they concluded that this could not be Joseph. Joseph, so involved in material things, buying and selling? Impossible!

How indeed could it be so? Did Joseph sacrifice his spiritual consciousness when he became viceroy of Egypt?

Chassidic thought says no. On the contrary, it was precisely because of his heightened spiritual consciousness that he acted as he did.

To explain: There are those who chose the spiritual over the physical. They look at the spiritual and the physical as opposites, and opt for the spiritual. There are, however, certain select individuals whose spiritual awareness is so great that it enables them to understand how G‑dliness encompasses the physical as well, how there is no entity that is apart from Him.

This is the meaning of the words “G‑d is one” in the Shema. Not only that there is only one G‑d, but that everything is at one with Him.

This was the nature of Joseph’s awareness. He did not see the need to retreat from material involvement to be involved with the spiritual. Because of his single-minded devotion to G‑d, he was not separate from Him although he was involved in material tasks. Although he embraced worldly activity, it did not take him away from his spiritual consciousness.