” And Yosef said to his brothers: ‘ I am Yosef, is my father still alive’, and his brothers could not answer him …..” (Bereishit 45/3)
The climatic end to the story of Yosef and his brothers, he finally reveals himself, and upon doing so immediately asks after his father. Yet when looking more closely at this verse, we see that there are a number of questions that need to be asked.
The Bet Halevi comments:
The first problem in our verse is that, in all of the pesukim from the beginning of the parasha leading to this one, Yehuda has made his case for the releasing of Binyamin. His entire argument has been based on the trauma that would be caused to Yaakov by the enslaving of Binyamin. Surely, it must be obvious to Yosef, therefore, that his father is still alive. In fact the first question that Yosef asked the brothers upon their return to Mitzrayim was with regards to the well being of his father. Why does Yosef upon revealing himself ask a question to which he already knew the answer ?
Secondly, if we accept that the question is a legitimate one, why does it remain unanswered ?
Furthermore, we are referred to a Midrash that states: “Abba Cohen Bardala said: Woe to us from the day of judgement, woe to us from the day of rebuke. If when Yosef rebuked his brothers they could not answer, how will we answer on the day of Judgement ?”
What rebuke is there in our verse ? Yosef simply says who he is and asks after his fathers’ health.
Having asked the questions the Bet Halevi, quite exceptionally, describes to us what really happened when Yosef at first revealed himself to his brothers.
There is, in fact, no reconciliation in this verse between Yosef and his brothers. This thesis is strengthened by the fact that in the very next verse Yosef seemingly repeats himself ‘I am Yosef your brother’. In our passuk no mention of ‘brother’ is made. On the contrary, when Yosef initially reveals himself, he makes no attempt to make peace, the brothers reaction only confirms that they were not comforted but shocked, to say the least, by the words of Yosef.
Indeed, when asking whether his father was still alive it was Yosefs’ intent to rebuke his brothers, not to ask a question to which he already knew the answer.
Yehuda had spent the last few minutes accusing Yosef – Does Yosef know that if they do not take Binyamin home it will be tantamount to killing their father. Yehuda points the finger at Yosef , he is a liar, he is uncaring. To this Yosef answers: I am Yosef – I was thrown by you into a pit full of snakes and scorpions, my coat was dipped in blood, you have deceived my father for twenty two years – is my father still alive, after all that you have put him through ? You have the audacity to stand in front of me claiming the well being of my father, where was your care over the last twenty two years ? What of the young boy who you took from his father all those years ago? Yet you have the temerity to stand in front of me and point the accusing finger!
The reaction of the brothers is absolute, they are silenced, the rebuke is enormous. In this one moment of truth they finally realize the depth of their sin in selling Yosef. In judging Yosef the ruler with regard to Binyamin, they have in essence judged themselves with regard to the selling of Yosef. It is only after they understand the rebuke to its full, that Yosef then says, ‘I am Yosef your brother’.
Thus we see the greatness of Yosefs’ statement. It was not a question, but a rebuke. The brothers do not reply, because the true answer is silent remorse. The Midrash informs us, that this will be the order of events on the day of judgement. Hashem will ask us to account for ourselves. Our consistency will be checked and re-checked. If we had no money for acts of Chesed, how did we have money for acts of leisure. If we had no time for sitting and learning, how did we have so much time to waste on nonsense. If we could not get up in the morning to pray, how did we get up in the morning for work. In the same way that Yosef rebuked the brothers by showing them the inconsistencies of their actions, so Hashem will rebuke us on the Day of judgements.
When learning the above Bet Halevi, one is forced to conclude in accordance with the Ramchal at the outset of Messilat Yesharim that: We are obliged every day to account for our actions. At the end of each day we must sit down and analyze whether or not we have used the day to its’ full. How correct have our actions been. Have we been consistent in our behaviour.
Why wait for Yom Hadin when the initiative is no longer in our hands? Why not deal with the issues here and now, surely it is for this reason that we were created?
Our Chesbon Nefesh must be intense and sincere. Specifically at this time, in the predicament we find ourselves in, with the unity of Yerushalayim under threat. The real answer to our problems lies within us. We ended up in Mitzrayim, as a result of disunity and sinat chinam, we must ensure that history does not repeat itself.