In this week’s parsha we reach the climax of the episode of Mechiras Yosef. At the age of seventeen Yosef was kidnapped and sold to Metzrayim as a slave by his brothers. In Metzrayim he withstood temptation, and excelled in all areas. After spending twelve years in a jail he was promoted to second in command overnight. Eventually, his brothers come to Metzrayim to purchase food, and unknowingly bow down to their younger brother who is the second most powerful man in the world, in fulfillment of Yosef’s dream many years earlier.
While disguised as an Egyptian ruler Yosef tests his brothers and deals with them harshly. He assesses whether they have done teshuva on what they had done to him by putting them in positions where they could possibly turn on each other. He has them bring his younger brother, Binyamin, to Metzrayim and sets him up as a criminal. Last week’s parsha concludes when Yosef tells the other Shevatim that since Binyamin was the one who committed the crime he would have to stay in jail, while the rest of them could return home. This was the ultimate test to see if they would stick up for their younger brother, or if they would take the natural course in such a situation, and leave him there.
This week’s parsha opens with Yehudah putting his life on the line and explaining to Yosef that he is not leaving without the boy. He offers to stay in his stead, or even threatens to wage war with the entire country! Yosef is unable to contain himself and reveals to his brothers who he is. When he does so the Torah tells us that they were unable to answer him because they were afraid of him. Rashi brings the Midrash that says woe is to us from the day of Judgement, woe to us from the day of rebuke. If Yosef’s brothers could not answer him when he rebuked them, how much more so will we be frightened when Hashem rebukes us. The simple understanding of this statement is that when a mere flesh and blood rebuked others in a situation where they thought they were correct and was proven wrong how they were so frightened that they could not speak, how much more so will we be frightened when Hashem, who knows everything rebukes us.
There is a fundamental question that the commentators are bothered by. Where do we find Yosef rebuked his brothers? All he said was that he was Yosef. Where was the rebuke? The Beis Halevi answers that the best form of rebuke is when the transgressor can realize his mistake on his own and judge his own fate objectively. We find this when Nosson Hanavi rebuked Dovid Hamelech, he painted a scenario that was similar to what he wanted to rebuke Dovid regarding and asked Dovid to judge that case. After Dovid Hamelech ruled in that case Nosson Hanavi said you are the perpetrator.
Yosef’s brothers believed that they acted properly and thought that Yosef was deserving of what he got. According to them he was deserving of death. Seeing the fulfillment of his dreams, as he sat on a throne in Metzrayim was in fact the highest level of rebuke for it showed them and led them to conclude on their own that they were wrong.
This is also the explanation as to how it could be that the Shevatim encountered and spoke face to face with their own brother, whom they lived with for seventeen years, yet they did not recognize him. How could they not realize that it was him? Yes, Rashi explains that he did not have a beard when he left. But, they didn’t even have a slight inkling, or suspicion that perhaps this man strongly resembles their long-lost brother?
The answer is, they were in denial. In their minds Yosef was deserving to be sold as a slave. There was no way that Hashem would elevate such a person to such a position of power. So even if they did see some resemblance, they dismissed it as preposterous.
The reason they were speechless when Yosef revealed himself, is because they realized that for many many years they lived under a false presumption. They realized that they had the wrong impression and acted on a false premise. The shock of realizing this great mistake is what left them dumbstruck.
The Midrash is pointing out to us that one day Hashem may show us that we have assumed certain things to be fact and led our lives accordingly, when it was all a farce.
One example that comes to light in the modern era of a similar phenomenon, is the media, and many American’s perception of the current president, and especially from Jews. This president has done so much positive for this country without receiving any recognition from the media at all, to say the least. On the contrary, they seek to remove him from office at all costs. But to my fellow Jewish brothers, I ask has there ever been a friendlier president to the Jewish people. Certainly not! Yet, so many still cannot realize that the man standing in front of them is their greatest ally. I hope the day of their rebuke comes, so they can openly begin to thank Hashem for the president that He has appointed over this great and free nation.