Shimon was not being heard.
Yosef, the great Egyptian vizier, forces his brothers to leave one of them as hostage, and he chooses Shimon. There is apparently no complaint, or resistance, or plea neither from the brothers, nor from Shimon himself.
Thirteen years earlier, when the brothers caught Joseph and threw him into the well, we did not hear any complaint or cry, neither. Joseph also was silent.
In our parashah we finally discover that he did cry, he did ask for his brother’s compassion… but they did not hear: “We are being punished because of our brother. We saw his distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen” (Gen. 42:21). Why the Torah did not tell us at that point, in parshat Vayeshev, that Yosef spoke up and pleaded? Maybe it is so to let us feel that lack of listening from his brother’s side. Yosef cries and, like his brothers, we do not listen. The Torah teaches us by means of a hard example, together with a tangible experience.
Maybe Shimon also cries and claims, but they are not ready to hear.
The difficulty to listen, the difficulty to accept the voice of the other, is a central issue in Yaakov’s children relationship.
Now they talk in front of Yosef; they speak of their younger brother’s cry while being thrown into the well – a cry that they were not willing to listen to. They speak, but they still ignore the presence of their fellow person. Yosef listens, understands, but they do not take him in consideration. They assume he does not understand; and if he does not understand, he is not significant. Let’s talk in his presence without taking him into account.
Yosef, on the contrary, is open to listen to his fellow distress. He listens to the other and is open to hear and to understand. That is why he has the ability of interpret dreams, which are the hidden language of God and of the soul.
The brothers are too busy with themselves to grant the fellow person the status of existent: Yosef is there, but they do not recognize him; Shimon is there, but they do not hear him. Yaakov cries: “You have bereaved me of my children: Yosef is no more, Shimon is no more, and now you would take Binyamin!” (Gen. 42:6), but his children are not able to understand his clamor. Reuven even offers him to magnify the loss: “Kill my two sons, instead“… these are Yaakov’s grandchildren! Instead of three, Reuven suggests losing five of the family!
Yosef’s “exercise” is intended to cause them feel directly what it is not to be heard. They tell him who they are what their intentions are, but he makes like he does not listen and considers them to be spies: “Your servants have never been spies… We are twelve brothers, the sons of one man” (Gen. 42:11-13). But all explanation was useless: “It is as I said to you. You are spies” (idem 14). They feel the hopelessness of that who says and is not listened to.
The long and painful experience that Joseph makes them go through, produces a change in their souls and they are now ready to understand what they did not understood previously. They begin hearing one another, they quit each one’s bubble of isolation and become able recognize and accept the existence of their fellow person
This evolution in their souls is the founding point of the development of the People of Israel, a people ready to accept the Torah, to listen to God’s voice, to elevate the existence of other persons to the level of vital respect, and to persist in reading, listening and understanding every evening and every morning.