Bereshit 37-40

This week’s Parashah, Vayeshev tells the story of Joseph and his brothers. We can only try to imagine what the life of Jacob was like as an elderly father with twelve grown children from different mothers and each with personalities of their own. I wonder how Jacob (and the mothers, of course) would be able to raise such a family in these times? If life today with all the advances we have made is difficult, imagine what it was like back then!

Joseph’s story is clear evidence that “everything turns out for the better.” Even under adverse circumstances, everything turned out for good. Through all the events narrated, we can see how the Creator intervened in each circumstance to save Joseph and thus the people of Israel. An important trait of Joseph that is worth noting, is his “spiritual greatness” and his unselfishness. How often do we, when faced with similar circumstances, fill ourselves with resentment and bitterness and blame others or the Creator Himself, for everything that has happened to us?   The Torah tells us, between the lines, that Joseph remained upright and without malice towards his brothers and others, even during very hard times, regardless of whether he himself provoked them or not.

It is important to be objective when analyzing Joseph’s behaviour. He was neither a saint nor a villain; just a human being, with elements of both. The fact of having been an instrument to “save” an entire people does not make him superior to other human beings. Moreover, we must not overlook all the good that we can learn from him. For example, his attitude. He was a man of conviction; he demonstrated a cheerful and willing spirit.

Another quality of Joseph is that he was obedient to his father and his superiors. His father sent him to look for his brothers and when he got to the place where they were supposed to be, he found that they were not there. Instead of returning to his father, he continued on to where he was told they were; he found his brothers because he wanted to obey his father by searching for them, even if there were miles away. By what his father ordered him and the fact that he was always promoted and placed in positions of power, shows us that he was someone who was willing to obey orders. Now that his mother died, his affections could now be directed toward his elderly father, which had previously been a cause of grief and pain.

Joseph was an honourable man. He demonstrated this in front of Potiphar’s wife, whose husband had given Joseph a wide range of responsibilities and placed everything he owned under Joseph’s care, except his wife who took a sexual interest in him. However, Joseph repeatedly resisted her advances, and made his rejection very clear to her. Despite him being still very young, he did not give in to her. The fact that Joseph displayed these virtues at such an early age tells us that mental maturity does not depend upon physical maturity.

Chapter 37 verse 2 says that Joseph “… was young.” Rashi says this refers to the speed with which Joseph, like all young people, wanted to live life. That is, perhaps he did not realize the consequences that his actions would produce. By bringing bad reports to his father about his siblings, he probably wasn’t thinking about the consequences. However, later, he forgave them for what they did in retaliation and was patient with them. 

Although Joseph eventually rose in power, wealth, and prominence, he experienced many dark days. His brothers hated him and sold him as a slave, he spent many years in prison, in disgrace and was long forgotten by those he helped. Despite all this, he did not lose hope or spirit. Active and cheerful, he also showed seriousness and moral resolve. Later, as an adult, he also demonstrated kindness, fidelity and truthfulness. We can see this better later on in Parashat Vayechi, when he tells his brothers about what happened. As I have already mentioned, Joseph seemed like a very emotionally mature young man. He later became an interpreter of dreams. He may have interpreted his own dreams, but because the Torah does not mention that he was asleep when he dreamed his famous dreams, it could lead us to the believe that they may have been “daydreams”. In other words, his dreams may have been the product of deep reflection.

With Joseph, we learn that to forgive is to leave the past behind and to live in the present. Joseph’s brothers had reason to hate him. His father gave him special gifts and in telling them his dreams, he appeared “superior” to them. We cannot blame Joseph’s brothers for feeling belittled by their father, much less for feeling jealous and angry. They hated him so much they couldn’t even speak peaceably to him and later, when the opportunity presented itself, they sold him as a slave. But no emotion or circumstance justifies any act of cruelty. In those situations, forgiveness is something that is not easy to achieve but we must work hard to do just that.

In this parashah, we see that nothing happens by accident. Just as it is in this beautiful story, every detail counts in our daily life, for example, the case with the “man” who gave Joseph the information about the whereabouts of his brothers (Bereshit 37: 15-17). Our sages do not agree on who this man was. There are those who say that it was the angel Gabriel, another that he was simply a passerby, another that he was God himself. Whoever this unknown man was, he was an instrument of the Creator in this story. If Joseph had not found his brothers, he would not have been where he should have been for the remainder of the events to take place. The message could not be clearer: when the Creator has arranged something, even if it seems impossible, something happens and the sovereignty of the Eternal, blessed be He, is shown so that events unfold according to His will. We have here a wonderful vision of how the Bore Olam works – sovereignly in the universe. Neither good nor bad can frustrate the Eternal’s plans, blessed be He.

Let us not forget our convictions. When we find the point of contact between the apparently negative events that happened in the past and the positive effect that it has brought to our lives, it is then that we are able to free ourselves from that past and live in the present towards a healthier and more positive future. Nothing happens by chance. Everything contains a secret plan, whether it is revealed or not.

When something bad happens to us, we may find ourselves unsettled, shaken in our faith, in our convictions and beliefs, but we always have the opportunity to see the Creator at work in the midst of everything.

Shabbat Shalom

By Alejandro Alvarado