Parashat VaYigash: The Ultimate Rebuke
We read in Parashat Vayigash of the dramatic moment when Yosef finally revealed himself to his brothers, announcing, “Ani Yosef.” The brothers, who had sold Yosef as a slave twenty-two years earlier, would have never imagined that the Egyptian vizier was their brother. Naturally, then, as the Torah says, they were dumbfounded: “The brothers could not answer him, because they were terrified of him” (45:3).
The Midrash famously comments on this verse, “Woe unto us on the day of judgment, woe unto us on the day of rebuke.” If the brothers at that moment were seized with horror and unable to respond to Yosef, the Midrash says, then certainly we will have nothing to answer when we leave this world and stand in judgment before G-d.
Many later writers have raised the question of where in this Pasuk Yosef speaks any words of “rebuke.” He simply says, “I am Yosef,” and then asks whether Yaakob is still alive. How did he “rebuke” his brothers?
Several answers have been given, one of which is that the brothers were at that moment shown that they had been conducting themselves on a fundamentally mistaken assumption. They had decided to sell Yosef not out of raw jealousy, but after careful consideration and upon reaching the conclusion that he posed a risk to the family and its future. They viewed his dreams of leadership as a dangerous threat, and therefore reached the drastic conclusion that he needed to be driven from the family of Yaakob. But when Yosef uttered those words, “Ani Yosef,” the brothers suddenly realized that they had been mistaken all these years. Yosef’s dreams had been fulfilled, his prophecies were correct, and he was indeed the chosen leader of the family. In an instant, the firm decision they had made was revealed as fundamentally mistaken.
This is the great “Tocheha” of which the Midrash warns. After 120 years, we will be shown that so much of our lives was lived on false premises. We spend the bulk of our time amassing material possessions, investing vast amounts of thought and energy into the pursuit of wealth and prestige, thinking that this is what is significant and meaningful. We accord such importance to the vain pleasures of life, to large homes, fashionable clothes, luxury cars and exotic vacations, working on the assumption that this is what matters. “Woe unto us on the day of rebuke.” One day we will be shown how all this is false, how the course we charted for ourselves was predicated on fallacies and delusions.
The message the Midrash is teaching us is not to wait for that “day of rebuke.” Let us ascertain already now that we are making our decisions and charting our course based on truth, and not on wholly misguided assumptions about life.