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Miketz 42:26–35, in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation:

[The brothers] then loaded the food they bought on their donkeys, and they departed. When they came to the place where they spent the night, one of them opened his sack to feed his donkey. He saw his money right there at the top of his pack. 'My money has been returned!' he exclaimed to his brothers. 'It's in my pack!' Their hearts sank. 'What is this that God has done to us?' they asked each other with trembling voices. When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him about all that had happened to them.… They began emptying their sacks, and each one's money was [found to be] in his sack. [The brothers] and their father saw the money-bags and they were afraid.

Why is it that one of the brothers opened his bag en route and the others did not? Didn't they all have to feed their donkeys? Or if they all opened their bags, why did only one of them find the money? Was his money stored higher in the bag, or something? Why?

3 Answers 3

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The question becomes even more complex when we examine Ber. 43: 19-21:

"So they drew near the man who was over Joseph's house, and they spoke to him at the entrance of the house. And they said, "Please, my lord, we came down at first to purchase food. And it came to pass when we came to the lodging place that we opened our sacks, and behold! each man's money was in the mouth of his sack, and we returned it in our hands."

According to the OP's quote of Ber. 42:26-35, only one brother opened his sack in the hotel. The others emptied their sacks when they reached home and only discovered that each brother's money had been returned when they got home.

According to the way they later presented the facts to the one over Joseph's house, they claimed that they all noticed the returned funds at the inn; NOT when they reached home??

Answer:

Rashi tells us (see Gen. 42:27) that the one brother who opened his sack in the hotel and discovered the money, was in fact Levi.

"The one opened: That was Levi, who was left alone, without Shimon, his companion." — [from Gen. Rabbah]

Medrash Bereishis Rabbah 70:7, also tells us that Yaakov Avinu designated Levi as the holy one of his children. (This was to fulfill giving Maaser (Tithe) on his children as well as his possessions.)

Therefore, Levi was the first Priest designated as "especially holy" in his family. He would be the one to pray and learn Torah all day, while his brothers would support him. (similar to how later generations gave Terumah and Maaser to the Priests and Levites)

If so, then when the brothers came down to Egypt, Levi did not bring money. His brothers took extra money which they gave to Levi, upon their arrival in the grain markets of Egypt.

IOW, when Levi picked out his purchases, the brothers would have simply handed Levi the amount needed, and then Levi paid with his brothers' donation.

The brothers themselves, had brought surplus travel funds, kept in their bags.

Now, when Joseph's Egyptian servants were sneaking money back into each pack, they put money into 9 bags that had other money inside; and they put money into Levi's bag which held no money inside.

So when Levi opened his bag, he saw money where there should have been none at all. So, he exclaimed that his cash was returned!

The other brothers at the hotel, were not phased that the same was done to their bags, because each of them took lots of surplus money with them on the trip just in case. So, when they also opened their bags to feed their animals, the sight of money did not surprise them, as they knew they were each carrying lots of change.

However, when they all reached home and "emptied out" their bags, they realized then that they each had too much money! So now they all knew that the money they saw back at the inn was in fact extra and had been returned as well (in addition to Levi's find).

Therefore, when they returned and spoke to the overseer of Joseph's home, they presented the story that "all of them" had found their money returned in the hotel, based on hindsight.

(They now knew that the money they saw at the hotel was in fact extra and when speaking about it now, referred to its sighting as occurring earlier in the hotel and not later at home.)

This now explains any contradictions or difficulties in the verses.

SOURCE:

About ten years ago, I was discussing this question with Rabbi Lisker who lives near me in Kensington, Brooklyn, NY. He has a Shul and Kollel which we call "Lisker's".

Rabbi Lisker researched the issue and came up with the above "Chiddushei Torah" to explain the right answer.

I feel his chiddush has the ring of truth, so I like to say this over as a vort. This Shabbos alone I probably taught it about 7 times. :)

I hope this helps. :)

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The Malbim 42:25 explains that indeed for all the brothers he placed their amtachto (small bag) on the bottom of their saq (A large sack filled with grain. However, Yosef purposely placed Levi's amtachto on the top of his sack so he should find it on the way to cause anguish, since Levi was more guilty than his other brothers. The Zohar ( vayeshev identifies האחד in the passuk as Levi.

The Malbim also notes that Yosef gave them enough rations for the road so they wouldn't have to open their sacks until they reached their home.

Text of Malbim:

כה - כז) "וימלאו את כליהם בר". כדי שלא ירגישו בהכסף המושב כי היה בשק מלא וגדוש, "ולהשיב כספיהם איש אל שקו", פי' המפ' שאמתחת הוא הקטן ששם ישימו חפצים מיוחדים, ושק הוא הגדול ששם ישימו התבואה ומספוא לחמורים, והושם הכסף באמתחת שהושם תחלה בשק ועליו היה התבואה והמספוא וע"כ לא הרגישו בו עד בואם אל ביתם, לבד אמתחת האחד [שלדברי חז"ל הוא לוי] הושם בפי השק והכסף הושם בפי האמתחת, כדי שהוא ירגיש בו בדרך ויצטער גם בדרך, כי הוא היה חייב יותר במכירת יוסף, וצוה "לתת להם צדה לדרך", שלא יצטרכו לפתוח השקים בדרך. ומ"ש "וישאו את שברם וילכו משם", ר"ל שלא הלכו לאכסניא רק תיכף שבו לארצם:

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A couple of commentaries address this issue.

Radak explains that Joseph deliberately had the money of all the other brothers hidden deep in their bags, so even though presumably everyone opened their bags during the journey, only one brother found the money:

כן צוה יוסף שלאחד מהם ישימו כספו בפי אמתחתו ולאחרים באמצע האמתחת או בתחתיתו שאם ישימו כספם בפי האמתחת כולם בלקחם מספוא לחמוריהם יראו וישובו למצרים על דבר הכסף להשיבו ולהודיע כי לא פשעו בו כי הם נתנוהו לפיכך צוה יוסף לשים הכסף באמצע האמתחת כדי שלא ירגישו בכסף עד היותם בביתם אבל צוה לשים לאחד מהם בפי אמתחתו כדי לצערם וידע כי בעבור כסף של אחד לא ישובו למצרים

Thus commanded Joseph, that to one of them they should place his money in the mouth of his sack, and to the others [they should place the money] in the middle of the sack or at the bottom [of the sack]. For if they would place their money in the mouth of the sack, all of them would see [the money] when taking provender for their donkeys, and they would return to Egypt on account of the money to return it and to make known that they had not sinned with it, for they were given it. Therefore Joseph commanded to place the money in the middle of the sack[s] in order that they should not feel the money until they were back in their houses. But he commanded to place [the money] for one of them in the mouth of his sack in order to torment them, and he knew that the would not return to Egypt on account of the money of [just] one of them.

Ramban, on the other hand, explains that in fact only one brother needed to open his bag during the journey:

אחד מהם פתח את שקו במלון לתת ממנו מספוא לחמורו והאחרים לא פתחו את שקיהם עד היותם עם אביהם כאשר אמר ויהי הם מריקים כי אולי היו האחרים לוקחים לחמוריהם תבן כי לא יאכלו כל משאם בדרך וזה האחד לא היה חמורו חזק והוצרך למספוא ומצא כספו בפי אמתחתו

One of them opened his sack at the inn, to take from it provender for his donkey. And the others did not open their sacks until they were with their father, as it says "and it was when they emptied their sacks". [The reason why only one of the brothers opened his sack is that] perhaps the others took straw for their donkeys in order to not consume everything they were carrying during the journey, but this one's donkey was not strong and needed provender, and he [thus] found his money in the mouth of his sack.

Ibn Kaspi has a comment about this as well, which may be relevant:

אין צורך שיזכיר למה פתח האחד לבדו ומי היה זה ואנחנו נוכל לסבור בזה כמה סברות

There is no need to mention why only one opened, and who it was, and we can explain this in many ways.

This remark might be implying that the entire question is invalid because the Torah contains little detail about this incident, and doesn't need to contain any more detail, and therefore there can be any number of possible explanations. If so, we might even be able to say that everyone opened their bags on the journey but it was simply unnecessary for the Torah to mention it — especially if all the other brothers opening their bags was only prompted by the first brother finding the money. When they were telling it over to Jacob, all the brothers emptied their sacks, so the Torah may have simply noted it that way.

However, in his commentary to 43:21 Ibn Kaspi goes the opposite way. When the verse there says that the brothers told Joseph that all of them opened their sacks at the inn, that was the imprecision:

הנה אמרם והנה כסף איש בפי אמתחתו היה אמת וכן היה אמת כי באנו אל המלון ואולם יש עיון באמרם ונפתחה את אמתחותנו כי לא פתח במלון רק האחד מהם והאחרים לא פתחו עד בואם הביתה אבל אין אומרו ונפתחה את אמתחֹותינו מחויב שהיה במלון כן לכולם והם רצו לקצר

And behold, their statement "and behold the money of each man was in his sack" was true, and [their statement] "when we came to the inn" was also true. However, there is analysis of their statement "and we opened our sacks", for only one of them opened [his sack] at the inn. The others did not open [their sacks] until they came to the house. However, the statement "and we opened our sacks" does not necessitate it having happened at the inn for all of them, and they [simply] wanted to abridge [the story].

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  • Curiosity - didn't the others need to open their sacks to feed their donkey's too? When they removed the food, wouldn't they also have found the money?
    – DanF
    Dec 9, 2018 at 17:46
  • @DanF In which approach? According to Radak they did open their sacks but the money was sufficiently deep that they didn't notice it. According to Ramban they were feeding their donkeys straw which didn't come from the sacks. According to my last point they did find the money.
    – Alex
    Dec 9, 2018 at 17:48

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