This week’s reading continues the story of Yosef who is one of the most impressive characters in the Torah. Though he faced incredible challenges, he remained strong, focused, dedicated, and faithful in circumstances that would strain anyone’s spirituality.
His mother died when he was young; his father showered him with preferential love but that drew forth hatred and jealousy from his brothers. His own siblings conspired to murder him, then sold him into slavery instead. As a boy of 17, he was literally ‘carted’ off to a strange land among a strange people and a foreign language to perform the lowliest of tasks for a master. His boss’s wife tried to seduce him than had him imprisoned on false charges when he refused her. And yet, he never lost his faith, nor his dignity. How would you or I have handled all of this?
His trust in God is unshakeable. He speaks fearlessly of the one true God to Potiphar’s wife, an idolater. He speaks just as fearlessly of God to his fellow inmates in the prison as even to his own brothers when they do not recognize him in his Egyptian garb.
Perhaps most significantly, he speaks of the God of Israel to Pharaoh, who himself claims to be a god. Yosef’s life could well have been on the line; he could have chosen to be ‘politically correct’ in order to gain favor with the Pharaoh. But he doesn’t. He is utterly honest and direct.
He claims no credit for his ability to interpret dreams, but gives the praise to his God who knows everything and has enlightened Yosef to the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream. It was a risky statement to make, but Yosef is uncompromising.
Yosef speaks of God’s presence in every situation and God’s reward is obvious: God is clearly with him in all he does. Everyone around him sees it, from Pharaoh to the lowliest Egyptian. Yosef recognizes God’s hand in daily life, and, through Yosef, the hand of God is revealed to others, who recognize that God is the secret of Yosef’s success. Yosef accomplishes something amazing: he succeeds in bringing God Himself into the bitter exile in Egypt: God is with him in the House of Potiphar, God is with him in prison, and God is with him when he enters the palace.
Towards the end of his story we learn that Yosef even recognizes that God was with him when he was betrayed by his brothers. When he reveals himself to them, Yosef declares that it was not they but God who brought him to Egypt.
In only one instance does it seem that Yosef experienced a moment of weakness: one moment when he complains and sounds like a victim. Yosef explains the dream of the wine steward, and so much more. It is God, Yosef explains, who controls the world; it is God who has revealed the dream, and it is God who will set him free. Yet, even after this inspiring message, Yosef pleads with his fellow inmate to remember him and to help him leave his prison cell.
If God is so real to him, why would Yosef turn to a fellow prisoner for help? Asking the steward for help was out of character for the young Hebrew slave.
Is this why Yosef languished in prison an extra two years? His “crime” was not that he attempted to free himself, but that he yielded to a momentary lapse of faith. Only when Yosef, in a moment of weakness, describes himself as a victim of human injustice and pleads for the wine steward’s help, does he actually become a victim.
This single lapse of faith was immediately rectified when Yosef stood before Pharaoh. When Yosef’s faith and vision are renewed, when he reminds himself – and Pharaoh, and all of Egypt – that God is supreme over all, Yosef is elevated to a position of power. He is the victor rather than the victim.
In Tune with Torah this week = Yosef’s example teaches us that even in the most difficult of situations, FAITH clings to the truth that God engineers every event of our lives for our ultimate good. We are not “victims”, but living testaments to God’s power and ultimate kindness if we will be respond to our circumstances with the faith of a Yosef.