Joseph is still in jail after the Cupbearer was restored to his position, yet forgot to mention Joseph to the Pharaoh, as he had promised to do.
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Two years pass and Pharaoh has a dream, the dream of the 7 healthy and 7 sickly cows, followed by the second dream of the 7 healthy and 7 sickly ears of corn. No one in his kingdom, none of the Soothsayers or magicians, can interpret these dreams. Now, the Cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh, who summons Joseph.
Joseph interprets the dreams and tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise man to store grain during the years of plenty. Of course, who else could do this but Joseph (maybe that’s why he suggested it to Pharaoh?), so Pharaoh appoints Joseph as second in charge of all Egypt. No one except Pharaoh is above Joseph throughout the land. He also renames Joseph with an Egyptian name (my Chumash suggests that being given a new name, which was standard in those days to do when someone was promoted in status, may have helped hide his identity from his brothers.)
Joseph is given a wife who bears him two sons, the first one named Manasseh, which means “making to forget”, for Joseph says (Genesis 41:51) “…for God has made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.” In other words, the blessings that God provided to Joseph overtook the tsouris, injustice, and pain he suffered for years.
After the years of plenty the famine starts, and Jacob sends all his sons to Egypt, except Benjamin, to buy grain. Joseph immediately recognizes them, but they have no idea who this Egyptian in charge of the food supply is. Joseph accuses them of being spies and puts them all in jail. After three days he tells them he will keep one as a hostage, and if they bring the missing brother back to him he will believe they aren’t spies. Otherwise, they will never be allowed in the land, again. He takes Simeon as a hostage until they return with their youngest brother to prove they aren’t spies. In the meantime, he returns their money in their sacks and when they are almost home they realize this. They are frightened when they see this, thinking Joseph will assume they stole their money back. They return Simeon-less to their father and say they must bring Benjamin with them to get Simeon released and to buy more grain. Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go, and only after Judah promises to take full responsibility for Benjamin’s safety and tells Jacob that if they don’t take him they will all starve to death. Jacob relents and allows Benjamin to go back to Egypt with the brothers. This is where today’s parashah ends.
We all go through painful times in our lives, we all suffer some form of injustice, and we all receive blessings from God. Too often we concentrate on the painful things and ignore the blessings, causing us to not be as thankful to God as we should be.
Joseph suffered the worst kinds of emotional pain: his brothers hated him and tried to kill him, he was sold into slavery, he was wrongly accused of a heinous crime, his boss unjustly threw him in jail, and the man Joseph helped while in jail forgot his promise to return the favor. Yet throughout all this, Joseph remained faithful and eventually, he was lifted up from being a slave in jail to being the second most powerful man in all of Egypt.
Now his brothers come before him and they need his help to survive. What does Joseph do? He throws them in jail! But this is important to know: he doesn’t throw them in jail as punishment or revenge, and he does so at his own personal, emotional pain. We know it causes him pain because we are told that Joseph cries when he does this. And we know he doesn’t do it as revenge because, as we were told earlier, with the birth of Manasseh Joseph has forgotten (or we could also say forgiven) his brother’s cruelty to him. The reason he threw them in jail, we later learn, is to test their loyalty to Jacob and to see if they have changed their attitude of jealousy to one of brotherly love.
We all suffer pain in our lives, both emotional and physical, and that pain never leaves until we forgive the ones that caused it. That sounds nearly impossible to do, but the only way to be rid of the pain is through forgiveness. Joseph was able to rid himself of his pain through forgiveness, and the motivation for his forgiveness was the blessings God gave to him. He was given authority and power, he was given a wife, two sons, and a boss that held him in the highest esteem. These blessings came as a result of his faithfulness and patience (two of the fruits of the spirit Shaul tells us about in Galatians), and what is most important for us to remember is that he recognized these blessings and was thankful for them, despite all the pain and suffering he underwent.
People have a tendency to dwell on the bad things and ignore the good, but what we, as faithful and trusting Believers, need to do is the opposite: we need to look to the future, to trust in God that these tough times will be replaced by times of plenty and rest, and stay the course, so to speak, until we receive those blessings. This is what Joseph did, and we can see how well it worked out for him.
Forgive those who have wronged and pained you. It isn’t easy, I know, but we MUST forgive. It is what God wants from us more than most anything else, and if you don’t think I am correct in saying that, read Matthew 6:14-15.
Let me share with you the two ways in which I have learned to make forgiving someone possible: First, I remind myself that the one who hurt me must be in terrible pain because people aren’t mean and thoughtless by nature. The mean people in the world have to have suffered much pain themselves, and whatever they did to me is probably less painful than what they have gone through. When I consider the pain they must be in, I can actually feel for them, and as such I know they need the love of God more than most, and that is why I can pray for them and mean it.
The second way I help myself to forgive someone is to think of all the blessings that God has given me, and how I have him to turn to whereas the one who wronged me probably has no one to turn to but him (or her) self. I have God on my side, and they have no one but themselves, so who really is worse off? Who really needs to be prayed for?
One other motivation for me to try to forgive someone is, as I mentioned above, Matthew 6:14-15. If you aren’t sure what that says, I sincerely recommend you read it, now.
Joseph is a wonderful example to us of how remaining patient, faithful and trusting in God to know what to do and when to do it will result in blessings that far outweigh the suffering we go through while waiting for him to act.
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Until next time, Shabbat shalom and Baruch HaShem!