Perhaps the most dramatic break between Parshiot of the Torah is the one that precedes Judah's great speech to Joseph, pleading for Benjamin's liberty. The tension that fuses the scene is strangely broken before the words va-yiggash eilav yehudah -- "Then Judah went up to him and said, 'Please, my lord . . .'"(44:18). For the narrative is clearly one seamless unit -- the discovery of Joseph's goblet "planted" in Benjamin's sack, the brothers returned to the palace in astonished silence, Joseph's reproach, and Judah's response, which directly precipitates Joseph's revelation of his true identity. And yet in uncanny counterpoint to that seamlessness, that thrust of dramatic intention toward the dénouement of the plot, a different structure imposes itself, with an ending and a new beginning, in the very midst of the dialogue between Joseph and Judah.
A closer look at this structure will lead us to focus on an apparently simple question: what, according to the different voices in the drama, is to happen to the brothers, if the goblet is indeed found with them?1 The terms of punishment change several times, and in suggestive ways, in the course of a few lines.
At first, when the brothers are accused by Joseph's servant, they answer in innocent outrage: "Whichever of your servants it is found with shall die; the rest of us, moreover, shall become slaves to my lord" (44:9). They have no knowledge of any such theft, and can speak with utter innocence of the goblet's being found in anyone's possession, and of the death penalty for the guilty one. Implicitly, however, they distance themselves as a group from such a hypothetical -- though at this point inconceivable -- offense: if there were to be such a finding, then they assert their difference from the criminal -- they will be slaves, while he will die.