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Seeing the Good in Wrong

Joseph is a stunning character. Despite adversity he achieves great renown.

His brothers first try to kill him and then sell him into slavery in Egypt. He quickly becomes Potiphar’s most trusted servant. Then when he refuses the advances of Potiphar’s wife, she becomes enraged and accuses him of trying to molest her.

Joseph is thrown into jail. There he interprets dreams, in particular those of the chief cup bearer (can someone please provide me with the job description for this position?) and chief baker. His interpretations are proven true. The chief cup bearer is restored to his position and the chief baker is executed. Lo and behold, Pharaoh is plagued (get it?) by repeated, disturbing dreams. No one can interpret them.

The chief cup bearer reports that he met this guy in jail who has a unique ability to interpret dreams. Joseph is summoned to Pharaoh’s palace. He is cleaned up and given fancy clothes. He interprets the dreams to mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. “Put someone in charge of stockpiling the food during the first seven years so that there will be enough food during the seven lean years,” Joseph suggests.

And guess what. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of the task. Our hero becomes the second most powerful, and influential, man in all of Egypt. Pharaoh showers Joseph with riches and gives him a bride. During the years of famine, Jacob and his children run out of food. They hear that there is food to be had in nearby Egypt and so they venture there to procure food for their large, extended family.

Joseph’s brothers appear before him and bow before him—just as he had dreamed when he was a younger man. Soon the brothers and Joseph will be reconciled. First the brothers must be tested. Will they stand up for their younger brother Benjamin and protect him? Will they behave differently towards him than they did to Joseph? Come back next week to see what they do. Or, if you prefer, read ahead.

My question at the moment is how we turn wrongs into good. Joseph is wronged by his brothers and then by Potiphar’s wife. He suffers setback after setback and yet still emerges successful.

Everyone faces setbacks. Everyone has been wronged.

Some even suffer injustices. Joseph is wrongly jailed! And yet he does not appear to dwell on these injustices and wrongs. He looks beyond these.  His vision is remarkable.

Moreover, his very success is a result of the wrongs committed against him. If his brothers had not sold him into slavery, if Potiphar’s wife had not falsely accused him, he would not have been in the right place at the right time.

He harbors no bitterness. Joseph views these very wrongs as part of a divine plan whose meaning only becomes apparent when his brother appear before him. Now he is in a position to save lives. His heart is only filled with gratitude. Joseph exclaims, “Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45)

How many people can do likewise? How many people can look past the wrongs committed against them—even, and especially, when the resulting good is not so readily apparent? Redeeming the wrongs committed against us, seeing the positive even when it remains mysterious, is the holy task Joseph’s example sets before us.

To be honest, I do not know if I can always do it. Dwelling on those wrongs often feels easier than looking past them. I do know that I am supposed to emulate Joseph

Joseph’s ability to see the good even in the bad is stunning. In the verses of the Torah, it also becomes revelatory.