The pessukim mention that the brothers said after Yaakov died, “לו ישטמנו יוסף” which Onkelos translates “maybe Yosef is guarding hatred for us,” and now he will take revenge for the bad that we did to him. Yosef responds, “אל תיראו התחת אלוקים אני.” Rashi explains, “Do not worry, am I in His place?” Meaning, can I do anything bad even if I would have wanted? All of you tried to do bad to me, and Hashem made it be for the good. Certainly I alone will not be able to do anything bad; therefore you do not need to worry.
Onkelos translates the words “התחת אלוקים אני” as “I am one who fears Hashem,” you do not need to worry. How does this response resolve the brothers’ fear?
The Gemara brings: when Rebbi Yochanan Ben Zakai was sick his students came to visit him and he started to cry. The students asked, “Why are you crying?” Rebbi Yochanan responded, “If I were to be brought before a king of flesh and blood I would cry. This is before a human king who is here today and tomorrow is in the grave, who if he were to get upset at me it is not forever, and if he were to kill me it is not a death forever. Also, I can appease him with words and I can bribe him with money. Now, they are bringing me before Hashem, the King of all kings who exists forever and His anger is everlasting, and He kills forever. Also, I cannot appease with words or bribe with money. Certainly I should cry!”
The students then asked Rebbi Yochanan to bentch them. He said, “It should be the will of Hashem that the fear of Hashem shall be upon you as the fear of a person of flesh and blood.” His students asked, “Is that it? Not any more than the fear of a person?” He responded, “If only you achieve that level! When a person is alone and thinks about doing an aveira, he checks that nobody is watching, although he knows that Hashem sees everything. Such a person is more afraid of a person than Hashem, for had a person been there he would not have sinned. Halevai you should fear Hashem as much as you fear people.”
Rebbi Yochanan taught two identical lessons. First, he taught that he was as afraid of Hashem as one is afraid of a king of flesh and blood. Second, he taught that the students should also internalize this lesson to be aware of Hashem and be afraid to do what is improper as he would if a person would see him.
The same is true with Yosef. He responded to the brothers, “This that I did not take revenge is not because I was afraid of our father, but rather because I fear Hashem. There is no difference now that our father is not around.”
May Hashem help use the models of our Roshei HaYeshiva, Rabbeim, parents, and bosses, to always have the awareness of Hashem before us and fulfill His mitzvos.