My wife and I first lived in Queens and there we befriended a couple — the husband worked for the district attorney. One Shabbos he told us about a “Yom Kippur moment” he experienced in court, when a woman was on trial for DUI.
She was 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. Her language, the way she walked, 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. G-d is judging us based on the rolling of the tape, and we have no defense for our behavior, just an embarrassed look when the reality hits home that we can’t hide from the truth.
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.”
Yosef’s brothers had nothing to say when Yosef said what he said, “so when G-d 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? The guilt is clear.
Kli Yakar concludes by 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.”
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 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?”
The truth is, I don’t think it matters how Yosef revealed himself, because it’s like the rolling of the tape. The brothers see Yosef in front of them, not a slave somewhere or possibly dead. He knows very well what they did. And now he has the opportunity, as king in Egypt, to be judge, jury and executioner, no matter when or how he reveals his identity to them.
They have no defense. And they know it.
All that’s left for 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 which they not only regret but which, 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! Years of regret, remorse, learning a very powerful lesson. Yes, the evidence is damning, and the prosecution rests. But at least now there’s a good case for the defense. And the judge — Yosef — buys it.
What will our defense be? Hopefully a good one. And hopefully our Judge will be as moved and as compassionate as was Yosef’s.
Previously published in 2017.