Although the brothers’ action cannot be justified, Joseph was not totally innocent. The Torah says that “he would bring evil reports about them to his father” (Genesis 37:2) The Midrash states that all the evil reports were groundless, and Joseph was, therefore, guilty of lashon hara. During his enslavement and imprisonment, Joseph did teshuvah to purify himself of lashon hara, derogatory speech.

However, Jewish law states that an offense against another person is not forgiven until one makes proper amends and asks for forgiveness from that person. In revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph wished to tell them that he had repented for the derogatory speech he had spoken about them. “I have corrected that defective trait. I have sanctified my speech. I am now truly a medaber, a speaker,” Rashi’s comment means more than that I speak Hebrew. Being polylinguistic does not yet warrant the designation of medaber. One is a “speaker” only if one’s speech is kodesh, only if one sanctifies his speech.

We should indeed take pride in having the gift of speech, but unless we sanctify our speech, we are not yet unique. Avoiding the abuse of this precious gift is what makes us unique as humans.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski