In this week’s parsha, Yosef reveals himself. "אני יוסף. העוד אבי חי?" At this, the brothers trembled before him, unable to answer. The Midrash Breishis Rabba 93:10 expounds, “Woe to us on the Day of Judgment! Woe to us on the Day of Tochacha! Bilaam the Wise of the Nations couldn’t withstand the tochacha of his donkey… Yosef was the youngest of the tribes and his brothers couldn’t answer his tochacha… How are we going to answer G-d on the Day of Tochacha?” The ba’alei mussar all ask, “What tochacha is being referred to in this midrash?” Yosef wasn’t trying to give his brothers mussar! He just told them who he was.
Rav Asher Weiss answers that from this midrash we can understand an important principle and redefine what tochacha is. Tochacha is not speaking strongly against a person’s misdeeds and brutally forcing them to acknowledge their follies. Real tochacha is bringing a person to a place where he himself will see the truth and want to change. In the case of the brothers, Yosef’s words caused them to realize that they were wrong in their psak that Yosef was a rodef. Instead of dreams of personal power, the dreams he shared with them were prophecies. Even though Yosef approached his brothers in a calm and loving way, they were overcome with remorse at what they had done. After all the drama, Yosef’s merely revealing who he was had an incredible impact. Each brother realized the dreadfulness of his actions involving Yosef and immediately felt a burning desire to correct the past.
There’s another point that is important to notice in this midrash. We see how embarrassing it is to have to confront the truth when it is pointed out by others. The midrash finds it significant that even a little brother or a donkey can make a person feel such tremendous embarrassment about his past actions. Therefore, embarrassment in the next world should frighten us. At face value, the midrash seems to be very disparaging. What hope do we have? The embarrassment that awaits us is almost unfathomable!!! But I think we should look at it in the inspiring way which chazal intended it. Give yourself tochacha now!!! Turn your life around! Don’t wait until it’s too late! If we change right now we’ll save ourselves from the crushing embarrassment the midrash speaks of.
It’s well known that it’s human nature to run away and not want to face things. You can find that people do this in different ways. Sometimes people don’t pay attention because they are too busy with other things. Since they don’t think about how they’re living, they don’t realize that anything is wrong until it’s too late. Other people make themselves busy in order not to think about the truth. It’s easier to play golf than to scrutinize your actions. Sadly, for us b’nei Torah, the way that we can miss the boat is by not considering the possibility that some of our actions are not in line with what the Torah really says. Instead of rethinking matters, we view ourselves as flawless in our ways and even create heterim that don’t exist. Life goes on as though we were tzaddikim gamurim, but we’re not doing what Hashem wants us to do. The midrash cries out to all of these people, “Don’t wait! Find ways to give yourself true tochacha! NOW!!!”
Now, one might be discouraged from giving oneself tochacha reasoning, “Either way I’m going to be in pain when confronted with my faults. Whether it’s me or somebody else giving the rebuke, it’s still hard to hear.” To eliminate these thoughts, it’s important to know that there is a world of difference between being confronted by someone else and being in control of your own self-improvement. When someone else rebukes you, it’s painful because it attacks your very essence. All of a sudden, somebody is highlighting your faults as if you’re not such a good person. And nobody wants the ugly parts of themselves displayed to an audience that may ridicule and laugh at them. However, when we try to face our issues ourselves, even if we get Rabbis and friends to help us correct our behavior, there is no reason for embarrassment. We’re all on the same team. Every problem that surfaces is a victory in itself because it’s one more step towards perfection. And that’s the entire goal. Rabbi Gamliel Rabinovitch told me that ideally a person should get people to aid him with tochacha. A person can’t see everything himself and needs others to help keep him in check. The Maharshal had a specific person who was designated for the purpose of giving him tochacha. The Gra was famous for always asking people to give him tochacha. If these gedolim felt such a need for other people to help them in their avodas Hashem, then we, all the more so, should employ all the forces we can!
My father z”l had an additional technique to help correct his behavior. Even when he was a yeshiva bachur, he would write down various spiritual goals for himself. He would then write himself critical notes if he found he didn’t meet these goals. In these notes, he would encourage himself to keep on working and not give up until the issue was dealt with. And believe it or not, he continued writing notes to himself until the day he day he died.
I would like to conclude with a story about Rabbi Moshe Mendel from B’nei Brak. Once, his neighbor went to ask him a question. He knocked on the front door but nobody answered. Since the matter was urgent, the neighbor proceeded to the back of the house where he thought there was a possibility of finding the Rabbi. To his surprise, he heard from the window shouts of rebuke. “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO DO TSHUVA?!!! YOU HAVE SO MANY AVEIROS!!! WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO FIX YOURSELF UP?!!! WHAT’S GOING TO BE WITH YOUR NESHAMA???!!!” The neighbor was so shocked at how abusive the Rabbi was to himself that he turned and ran away. We see from here some examples of how great people have taken advantage of the opportunity to give themselves tochacha. This should inspire us to do the same.
May we all be zoche to give ourselves tochacha!