In his book Growth Through Torah * Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, wrote, “Patience will prevent you from prematurely evaluating a situation as negative” (p 117). While this quote may seem a bit of an odd way to begin this week’s thoughts on Miketz, Genesis 41:1 – 44:17, as we consider the life and times of Joseph, it won’t seem so odd.
Remember, Joseph was Rachel’s first natural born son; ten other sons had already been born to Leah and her handmaid Zilpah and to Rachel’s handmaid Bilhah (see Genesis 30:22-24). So, the stage is set, favorite wife finally gives birth to favorite son. We know about Joseph’s favorite son status from last week’s parasha, VaYeshev, which clearly states, “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age” (Genesis 37:3) **. Unfortunately, this did not set well with Joseph’s brothers, “And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him” (Genesis 37:4). From an outsider’s point of view, this is a negative situation. Later in the narrative, while on a mission from his father, Joseph encounters his brothers. Instead of warmly receiving him, the brothers decide to throw him in a dry well (Genesis 37:24). While sharing a meal, the brothers looked up and saw a caravan of traders on their way to Egypt. Seeing a way to get rid of Joseph without killing him, Joseph’s brother sold him to the traders as a slave (Genesis 37:28). The narrative in VaYeshev tells us of Joseph being sold to Potipher and being placed in charge of Potiphar’s house and ends with Joseph being unjustly placed into prison where he stayed for more than two years. If anybody has the “right” to evaluate his own position as negative, surely Joseph did. He went from the favored son, to slavery and eventually to being unjustly placed in prison in a foreign country. How long does one need to have patience? How much perceived negativity does one have to experience before they are able to say, enough is enough?
In this week’s parasha we learn that Joseph is released from prison and almost immediately elevated to the highest position in the Egyptian government, second only to pharaoh himself. Returning to Rabbi Pliskin thoughts, he goes on to say, “There are many events in each person’s life that might appear to be negative when they first happen. But if a person were to know the entire picture of the consequences of these events, he would readily see how the Almighty planned them for good” (p 117).
The prophet Jeremiah, prompted by the Ruach, wrote these words to inhabitants of Judah when they were about to go into Babylonian captivity,
“For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.”Jeremiah 29:11
The destruction of the First Temple and national exile were soon to become a painful reality, and HaShem speaks words of encouragement about the plans he has for Israel to give them a hopeful future. Centuries later, Rav Shaul would write to the Yeshua believers in Rome,
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28 ***
In a footnote to this verse, the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament point out that “other ancient authorities read God makes all things work together for good, or in all things God works for good.” Regardless of the reading, the bottom line is that HaShem is in control of the situations and circumstances of our lives – the ones he specifically orders as well as the ones that we cause to happen through bad choices or disobedience. Continuing with Rav Shaul’s encouragement to the Yeshua believers in Rome
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”Romans 8:29-30
Here again the editors of the Jewish Annotated New Testament focus on an important aspect concerning those he foreknew stating that “Foreknew, a characterization of God’s sovereignty over the future, and not on the existence of free choice among human beings.”
This is an important observation, whether we are looking back at Joseph’s life or looking at our own, HaShem was, is and always will be sovereign and in control of the overall plan that he has for each of us. How this works is a bit of a mystery; his sovereignty does not override our choices or the choices and actions of others. However, in his foreknowledge, he knows how things need to work out to provide a good and hopeful.
I imagine that Joseph had times where he wondered if his dreams were really from HaShem or if they were from his youthful imagination (see Genesis 37:5-7 and 9). There are times in our own lives when we might fall prey to doubts and to the lies of the enemy that say we will never accomplish the things HaShem has placed in our hearts and minds. When the doubts come, we must hold on to the knowledge that HaShem knows our situations and circumstances and has our best in mind. It is incumbent upon us to remain patient, not driven by the situations and circumstances, no matter how bad they may seem, but trusting in the faithfulness and the promises of HaShem. I leave you with HaShem’s words whereby the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged his readers:
“I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”Hebrews 13:5-6; quoting of Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 and Psalm 118:6
* Zelig Pliskin. Growth Through Torah, Insights and Stories for the Shabbos Table. Brooklyn, Aish Hatorah Publications, 1988.
** Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.
*** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.