We take up from the last Parashah where Benjamin had been found holding the cup of Joseph, and was being held as bondsman to Joseph for life. Judah, who had told Israel he would be surety for the boy, approaches Joseph and tells Joseph how much Israel is bound, heart and soul, to Benjamin because his other son had been killed. Judah also tells Joseph that if Benjamin doesn’t return it will kill their father, and so Judah begs Joseph to let him, Judah, remain behind as slave for life and allow Benjamin to return so that their father isn’t troubled anymore.
This seems to be the final test passed, from Joseph’s viewpoint, for now he is so overcome with joy that his brothers have shown the loyalty and love to both Israel and Benjamin that he wanted to see, that he clears out all the Egyptians and confesses his true identity to his brothers. After the shock and surprise of this passes, they fall upon each other, crying for joy and Joseph immediately puts away any fear of reprisal by him, explaining how all this came about by God’s doing, that the terrible thing they did was actually part of God’s plan and His doing, so the brothers shouldn’t feel any remorse or guilt anymore.
The end of this parashah has Pharoah (who really seems to be a good leader and this guy just LOVES Joseph!) glad that Joseph is reunited with his family and immediately orders Joseph to bring them into the best land of Egypt, Goshen, so they can live there protected from the famine. God gives Israel, in a vision, permission to leave Canaan and dwell in Egypt, with the promise that God will bring his children back to their land. We are given the listing of genealogies of the sons of Israel at that time, and they come into Goshen and settle there.
We learn also how powerful the Pharaoh becomes thanks to Joseph. Up to this time, the people of Egypt were ruled by Pharaoh but they were all self-sufficient, owning their cattle and lands. When they run out of money to buy grain, Joseph barters their cattle for grain. When they are out of cattle to trade, Joseph acquires the titles to their land, and all this is now the property of Pharaoh. Essentially, Pharaoh is not only the legal ruler of the land of Egypt, but he owns it all, including the cattle. This makes Pharoah richer than before, and Joseph allows the people to keep 80% of the produce and give 20% to Pharaoh as their bondsman fees.
When I read this story, from Joseph’s sale into slavery through his reconcilement with his brothers, I think, strangely enough, of Mordecai saying to Hadassah how if she doesn’t ask the king to save the Jews, salvation will come from somewhere else, intimating God will do something, one way or another, to make sure His people survive. What causes me to think of this is how Joseph gives God all the credit (or blame?) for the slavery he suffered through for most of the past 13 years. Joseph was testing the resolve of his brothers, so do you think God had been testing Joseph’s resolve in the same way? Joseph was a bit of a braggart, ratting out his brothers, telling them of his dreams how they were going to bow down to him. Was he really that naive? Given how smart he shows himself to be, I can’t think that Joseph wasn’t, at least a little bit, rubbing their noses in it. That almost got him killed, and did get him sold into slavery. And while slave to Potiphar, God tempted Joseph, now in charge of everything, with the wife of his master. Joseph showed himself to be trustworthy and upright, which landed him in the jail. However, it was in the jail that he ended up getting the most direct route to the Pharaoh, wasn’t it? We are told Potiphar was a mighty military man, but we don’t know if he had the ear of the Pharaoh as well as the cup bearer did. If not for being in jail, Joseph may never have even known about the dreams. Finally, when Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, we hear him tell Pharaoh that it has nothing at all to do with him, but everything to do with God when it comes to interpretation. Joseph now has passed the final testing from the Lord, showing his true humility and acknowledgement of God as the ruler and knower of all things.
What would have happened if the brothers didn’t change? What would Joseph had done if Judah had just said, “Oh well, see ya Ben. I’ll tell Dad you screwed up and have to stay in Egypt.” ?
I don’t know. Maybe if Judah hadn’t shown compassion, Reuben would have? After all, Reuben owed his father a lot for having insulted him the way he did. Maybe it would have been one of the other brothers? As Mordecai said, if Hadassah doesn’t do something, God will raise up another savior. If not Judah, would Reuben have been the one to demonstrate the compassion and love that Joseph was looking for?
It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is not who God uses, but that God uses someone to accomplish His plans. God has used righteous men, God has used horrible men, God has used an ass, and God has even stepped in and taken the reins, Himself. Whatever or whomever God chooses to achieve His plans and enforce His will, the bottom line is that whatever God wants to be done, will be done. And exactly when He wants it to be done, as well.
For you and me, the lesson here is that we aren’t in charge- we never were, we aren’t now, and we never will be. But that doesn’t mean we are predestined and have no control. Au contraire, mon Ami! It means we are totally in charge, and thereby fully responsible, for our actions. We are the ones who choose to do and we are the ones who choose not to do. God will always get what He wants done, done. If He gives us a chance to be part of His plan, and we take it, then we are blessed to be able to serve the Lord. If He gives us the chance and we refuse, He may give us another chance, or He may not. We can blow it in a second and never know we could have been a Joseph, or a Judah, or even a Moses!
The choice to serve God or not to serve Him is totally up to us- we are not predestined to the degree we are irresponsible. I knew people who believed that God was in charge, but instead of honoring Him, they blamed Him. They easily took credit for anything they did that got them acclaim, and anything they failed to do or screwed up, well, then it was God’s fault because He is in charge of everything. A fatalistic approach to everything and an irresponsible attitude go hand in hand, and when you have a God that is in charge of everything, it is real easy to blame Him for what goes wrong.
I love to teach, and God has given me a gift for it, so when I give the message at Shabbat services or teach a class and I am congratulated, I will say that if I do something which is really good, I have to give all the credit to God. But when I really screw something up, that’s when I can take full credit. I am proud to say that when I say that, it is NOT false humility (if that makes any sense.)
God has taught me that He is in charge, and that He will always get what He wants done, done, and that He will most often use people to achieve His plans. God has also taught me that everyone He has used, is using, or ever will use has the option to do God’s will or to ignore God’s calling. Sometimes, like with Jonah (for instance) God may give you a second chance; other times He may not. I can’t really give you an example of when God doesn’t give you a second chance because no one who has ignored God’s calling has made it into the bible.
We all have Tsouris in our lives- that is necessary for us to grow, spiritually and emotionally. Those who use this to become better are the ones who will lead others; those who suffer under this and give in to their depression and self-pity become the bane of society. I believe that God will call on everyone at least once in their life. He is clear throughout the Tanakh that He wants everyone to turn from their sin and live; the death of the sinner never pleases Him. Therefore, He just has to call on everyone sometime to give them a chance to repent, to grow spiritually, to know God better and to be an instrument in God’s orchestra of salvation.
The thing is, God doesn’t shout. He doesn’t move mountains (although He can, if He really wants to) and he doesn’t send an engraved invitation. He just asks you to do something for Him. He doesn’t beg, He expects you to accept, and He doesn’t really want to hear excuses, like when Moses tried to get out of his calling. And most important, He doesn’t expect or like it when you try and give up. He is compassionate, patient and more than willing to lead you along the way, but when you accept God’s calling there is no Three Day Right of Rescission. When you agree to do God’s will, you are expected to do God’s will! You are expected to follow through, and I think that may be one reason we have free will- because it is such an onerous task to do God’s will in a world that hates God’s will, God will not force it upon us. God wants us to accept, and yet He allows us to refuse.
Listen for the calling in your life, and when you hear it, decide. You are allowed to say “No”, and I suspect that the vast majority of people choose that option. Yeshua tells us it is the small door and the path least taken that lead to salvation. The choice is yours, so please- make it a good one.