For the week of January 13, 2001 / 18 Tevet 5761
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Kings 2:1-12

Better, Not Bitter

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Bereshit / Genesis 50:20).

For me one of the most astounding episodes in the Torah is when Joseph’s brothers came to him after their father Jacob had died. Still fearing his retribution they sent a message to him, saying that Jacob had wanted Joseph to forgive them. While this may have been Jacob’s heart, it sounds as though they made it up.

Their fear was understandable after all they had done to him. They knew that he had the power to do whatever he wished to them. They figured that now their father was dead, Joseph would take revenge.

But he didn’t. On the contrary, we read, "he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (Bereshit / Genesis 50:21).

They had hated him, yet he harbored no bitterness. They wanted to kill him, and yet he gladly provided for them. They despised his dreams which foretold all these things, yet he didn’t even say, "I told you so."

Now some may think that Joseph’s reaction was normal. Having experienced the fulfillment of his dreams he now lived in prosperity. Obviously things worked out for the best. Not only was Joseph himself better off, everyone benefited. It doesn’t take a genius to see that God had wonderfully worked things out through Joseph’s dismal circumstances.

Yet it was not the better circumstances that prompted Joseph’s loving reaction to his brothers. Hard times are not easily forgotten. Many so-called successful people live with a great amount of bitterness and go out of their way to hurt those who previously harmed them.

It also wasn’t that Joseph simply had a positive outlook on life. Many people think that having a good attitude will keep them happy in all situations. These people see silver linings around every cloud even when they are not there. This is not what Joseph did. He knew quite well that there was nothing good about what his brothers did..

What made the difference is that Joseph understood what happened to him on more than the earthly level. He knew that though his brothers’ intentions were evil, God’s intentions were good. Once he understood that God was working a greater purpose through his hardships, he was able to endure them without resentment. That doesn’t mean he enjoyed his sufferings. Understanding that God is at work in difficult circumstances - both for our own good and for the good of others - frees us from having to get others make life better for us. Understanding that God is in control helps us to go through whatever processes he calls us to. And if we have this understanding we will come through the process better, not bitter.

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