Joseph is still in jail, unjustly accused by Potipher’s wife, and now forgotten by the cup bearer to Pharaoh, but God has given him grace and Joseph is in charge, the position we would call “Trustee.”
Pharaoh has a dream, the dream of the 7 ears of corn and the 7 cows, and is so troubled by it that he calls all the magicians and soothsayers to interpret it, but none can. Now the cup bearer remembers Joseph, and Joseph is brought forth. Joseph interprets the dream and consults Pharaoh regarding how to prepare for the coming famine. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams and manage things that he immediately appoints him Grand Vizier over all of Egypt. Pharaoh also, it is important to note, gives credit (as Joseph did from the start) to God, whose spirit rests in Joseph. The honor bestowed on Joseph also honors God.
Now Joseph is “The Man”, married into a very influential family and running the country. The famine has hit so hard and is so extensive that Israel’s sons and their families feel the crunch, so Israel tells his sons to go to Egypt and buy food (apparently Israel had to give them a bit of a kick in the pants to get them going.) The sons go down, all except Benjamin, who Israel has been dotting over and guarding like a prized fragile vase. The brothers go to Joseph, who recognizes them in an instant, but they do not recognize him. That makes sense, since (for a start) why would they ever expect to even see Joseph again, let alone expect to see him as an Egyptian noble. Joseph is dressed differently, is groomed like an Egyptian, wearing royal clothing and (probably) eye shadow and mascara. Even his voice would be different since he was only 17 when they threw him in the cistern and now he is a 30-year old man.
So begins the testing by Joseph of his brothers: not a vengeful retribution but a test to see if they have repented of the evil they did to him. And the brothers, having been accused of spying out the land and placed in custody, immediately count all that is happening to them as just deserts for the way they treated Joseph. It’s been 13 years, yet the first thing they think of when they are in trouble and misjudged is that God is striking them for their sin against their brother.
Joseph lets them think about it for 3 days, then announces that he is a fair man and will hold only one hostage so the rest can bring the needed food to their families. Simeon is taken as the hostage (the reason for this, according to Rabbinical thought, is because Simeon was the one who first suggested killing Joseph, so maybe a little “get-back” is happening here) and the brothers are told that if they ever return without the youngest to prove their innocence, then they will be killed. They relate this to Israel, who now finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: let Benjamin go down with the brothers and risk losing him, or keep Benjamin at home and risk dying of starvation and leaving Simeon in jail for the rest of his life.
Finally, Judah (the leader) guarantees Benjamin’s safety and Israel relents. They go down, prove their story and Joseph, who is finding it harder and harder to maintain his identity a secret, invites them all to dine with him at his house. He tests them, one last time, by hiding a cup of his in Benjamin’s pack and after they leave he sends his men to catch up with them and accuse them of stealing. They rashly make an oath that whoever has stolen anything will be killed, and lo! Benjamin is the one. Totally crestfallen, they are all taken back to Joseph for judgement. Here we are left hanging until the next Parashah.
This seems to be easily explained with the old adage, “What goes around, comes around.” The brothers mistreated Joseph, and now they are being mistreated, as well. They immediately accept that their sins have caught up with them, and although they are scared for their lives, they accept their misfortune as deserved.
How many of us are willing to accept the results of our own inappropriate actions or words? Isn’t it true that when we do something wrong, the first reaction is to avoid the blame? To say, “Well, you could’ve done this” or “They should’ve done something to prevent that”, or just, “I didn’t mean it.” The harm is done, and now someone has to pay, so if it is me, I need to get away from the pointing finger. Many people take almost a pridefulness in being able to avoid the consequences of their actions. I call those types “Teflon people”, because nothing ever “sticks” to them.
Those who fear God, who try to do their best, who show maturity and honesty, will always accept the consequences of their actions. President Truman used to have a sign on his desk that said, “The buck stops here”, meaning that ultimately he was responsible. He took that responsibility seriously, as well, and when we are responsible we are more careful about what we do and say.
Joseph knew what his brothers felt about him when he was a child, and certainly has never forgotten what they did to him. Yet, instead of feeling vengeful he wanted to embrace them because he had already forgiven them. I think it becomes clear as the story goes along that he was also desperate to reconcile with them. He was the one harmed but he showed understanding, forgiveness and love- all those things God likes us to do. But he wasn’t stupid about it- forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting again. His desire to reconcile was tempered by his common sense to make sure that before he lets them know who he is, which could mean their trying to take advantage of his position and power, he first tests their morality and trustworthiness.
We need to learn that no matter how poorly someone has mistreated us, the only way to overcome the pain and insult is to forgive and reconcile; first we forgive in our hearts, but we shouldn’t try to reconcile until we know their hearts. Forgiveness is first and foremost between the one that has been hurt and God, whereas the one hurt shows God that he or she has forgiven the sinner. That is the most important thing because forgiving someone who has sinned against you makes YOU right with God, and has nothing to do with their relationship with God. They need to ask God’s forgiveness. If they ask forgiveness from you, that’s a really good thing, but (ultimately) they need to ask for and be forgiven by God because He is the one who counts. Your forgiveness will do nothing to help them repair the rift between them and God that their sin caused.
We forgive the sinner to make ourselves right with God, which then also relieves the pain of the insult and mistreatment we suffered. If the sinner is willing and desiring to be forgiven by you, you have already done so, but that person needs to prove they have changed before you should trust them or reconcile. Let’s say I worked for you, and as your office manager I stole from you. I am caught, I return what I stole, and I ask for forgiveness. You forgive, and are even willing to let me work for you again, but you should not place me in a position where I can steal from you. Forgiveness is a spiritual thing, and not to be confused with real-life common sense. I abrogated a trust, and forgiveness works toward repairing our relationship but doesn’t reinstate the trust. The trust you had for me I now need to reestablish.
When God forgives our sins, they are forgotten, but when humans forgive, we should not totally forget what we forgave until the other person proves their true T’shuvah, repentance, and through their actions regains the trust that they violated.
Forgiveness is a spiritual action, whereas trust is real-life: always give them the chance to reconcile and regain trust, but don’t be naive about it.