by Reb Moshe David Tokayer
Petach Tikvah, IL
“ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אחיו לענות אתו כי נבהלו מפניו/Yosef said to his brothers, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?’ His brothers could not answer him because they were shocked before him.” The Midrash says that in this pasuk Yosef rebuked his brothers and they were not able to answer because of the shame they felt. The Midrash compares this with God’s rebuke on the ultimate day of judgment, “אוי לנו מיום הדין אוי לנו מיום התוכחה/Woe is to us on the day of judgment; woe is to us on the day of rebuke.” If the brothers could not withstand Yosef’s admonishment, how will we be able to withstand the ultimate admonishment before the redemption. Is the Midrash’s comparison simply one of degrees of rebuke or is there a fundamental connection between Yosef’s chiding his brothers and God’s chastisement on the final day of judgment?
The Sfas Emes explains that the rebukes are fundamentally the same. To understand why, we need to understand why the brothers were ashamed. The Sfas Emes explains that the brothers were mistaken about Yosef himself. The Zohar tells us that Yosef was שומר הברית/keeper of the covenant. Conventionally, this refers to his overcoming the temptations presented to him by the wife of Potiphar. The covenant that he kept was the covenant of the circumcision.
In this world holiness is hidden by gross physicality. The removal of the foreskin represents an unveiling of the holiness that lies within the physical world. (See VaYeira 5632 First Ma’amar for a detailed discussion of this concept.) Yosef, as the keeper of the covenant, represents the holiness that is within the physical world. The brothers, because this was hidden, did not realize it. Once Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, when they were confronted with their mistake, they stood in shame.
At the ultimate redemption as well, it will be made clear for all to see that the physical world in which we live is replete with holiness. God gave us the physical world and our circumstances to use to accomplish God’s will thereby rectifying ourselves and our environment. Before the final redemption, when this fact becomes clear to us we will look back at our lives and wonder how we could have used the physical world for purposes that were at odds with God’s will. Realizing our mistake, we will stand in shame before God. This is why the Midrash compares Yosef’s rebuke and the rebuke on the final day of judgment. They are fundamentally the same.
We can prevent the rebuke and our resulting shame by internalizing the understanding that everything around us and everything that happens to us are tools that God gave us in order to use to accomplish His will and come close to Him. On the day of judgment we will be able to stand before God, not in shame, but proudly having used these tools for their fundamental and ultimate purposes. Amen.