by Rabbi Avi Billet
My wife and I first lived in Queens and there we befriended a couple – the husband worked forfor the District Attorney. One Shabbos he told us about a “Yom Kippur moment” he experienced in court, when a woman was on trial for her DUI arrest. This woman was in court, dressed nicely, put together. And then they rolled the tape… of how she behaved when she was brought into the station after they picked her up driving under the influence of alcohol.
I don’t remember all the details, but her language, the way she was walking, attacking officers, you can imagine. It wasn’t pretty. And he said he looked over at her, and her head was down and she was crying.
What kind of defense can she submit? Her behavior in the video spoke for itself, everyone saw how drunk she was. I think my friend said they basically presented the video and whatever toxicology report and said “Nothing further, your honor.”
He described this as a Yom Kippur moment, because that’s how we imagine what Yom Kippur is. God is judging us based on the rolling of the tape, and we have no defense. No justification for our behavior. Just an embarrassed look when the reality hits home that we can’t hide from the truth.
And the Kli Yakar says, this is what happened to Yosef’s brothers. Quoting the Midrash Rabba on Yosef’s brothers’ reaction to Yosef’s declaration of “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” the Torah describes their reaction "His brothers were so startled, they could not respond."
We can take a lesson from this for the Day of Judgment. From the day of great rebuke. Yosef’s brothers had nothing to say when Yosef said what he said “so when God is standing in judgment, how much more so” do we all have nothing to say. When the evidence is thrown in front of you, what do you say? There’s nothing to say. The guilt is clear.
Kli Yakar concludes explaining the view of Rav Elazar that this is why the Torah’s narrative is presented this way, “So that an intelligent person will take the hint and understand the gravity of the Yom HaDin.”
There is what to be asked about what motivated Yosef to say what he said, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” Was he really trying to be loving and brotherly? If so, couldn’t he have been more loving, broken the information to them a little more softly? Or was he trying to dig in another jab – as some commentaries note with the question of “is my father still alive?” It’s nice that you Yehuda keep talking about your concern for your father, but why weren’t you concerned for MY father, MY father who has been suffering for so long since MY disappearance?
And the truth is, I don’t think it matters how Yosef revealed himself to his brothers. Because it’s like the rolling of the tape. The brothers see Yosef in front of them, he who they thought is either a slave somewhere or possibly dead, now standing there in person and in his great glory, for them to behold, there’s no argument. He was there back then. He knows what happened. He knows very well what they did. And now he has the opportunity, as king in Egypt, to be judge, jury and executioner, all in one. No matter when or how he reveals his identity to them.
And they have no defense. And they know it.
And so all that’s left to Yosef is to let them know how he’s going to proceed, what he’s going to do with the evidence he has. And maybe it’s to their benefit that Yosef is Yosef HaTzaddik. Because another perspective is that he’s been giving them a chance to mount their defense, their evidence of their being good people who made a horrible mistake. One which they not only regret, but which, when given the opportunity to do it again – to let Binyamin become a slave in Egypt – they’re all willing to be slaves, as we saw in last week’s parsha. Yehuda in particular, most responsible for the sale of Yosef, says “I’ll be a better slave than Binyamin. Take me as a slave. It’s what I deserve!”
What a defense! Yes there’s a video. But look what has happened since that time! 22 years of regret, remorse, learning a very powerful lesson. Yes, the evidence is damning, yes, the prosecution rests. But at least now there’s a very good case for the defense. And the judge – Yosef – buys it.
And what will our defense be? Hopefully a good one. And hopefully the judge will be as moved and as compassionate as Yosef was.