Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayechi December 25, 2015

Genesis 27:28 – 50:26

This is the last Torah reading in the book of Genesis. It ends with the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers and the death of Jacob.

Afraid that he had not really forgiven them for their betrayal of him, the brothers send Joseph a message after the death of Jacob, asking for forgiveness.  The message grieves Joseph who has indeed forgiven long ago.  He replies:

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50:19-21)

This message bears a great resemblance to an earlier one. When he revealed himself to them seventeen years before, he said:

“I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no sowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:3-8)

These two interactions between Joseph and his brothers are critical moments in the history of biblical faith.  These are the first occasions recorded in the Scriptures when one person forgives another for an offense.  But that’s not all: these two exchanges also establish the principle of Divine Providence.

History, as has been noted, is “His Story” – the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for mankind. Though we think we are in command of our destiny, the truth is that God is on His throne and it is He Who reigns over our days. His purposes are accomplished, often in ways that we do not understand, but nevertheless work for our good and, more importantly, for His overall plan of Redemption.  There are no coincidences with God; no accidents.  God never says “Oops!”

Joseph’s greatness was that he sensed this. He learned that nothing in his life happened by accident. The brothers’ betrayal, the plot to kill him, his tenure as a slave, the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife, his time in prison, and his disappointed hope that the chief butler would remember him and secure his release – all these events failed to throw him into an unredeemable depression.  Rather, to his credit and for our example, they became stepping stones in the journey towards the fulfillment of his destiny.  How? Because along the way, Joseph chose to learn from his experiences rather than rail against them.

No leader succeeds without facing opposition, envy, false accusations and repeated setback. Given his closeness to his father, Jacob, before he was separated from him, it is reasonable to expect that Joseph learned this principle from Jacob, himself.

I don’t know if Winston Churchill read the Bible but he certainly reflects the life journey of Joseph in his famous quote:  “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

What sustained Joseph through the many trials he endured was his faith.  Somehow Joseph internalized that life was not just about him, but about something much bigger.  The faith he learned from his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather stabilized him in the midst of chaos, encouraged him in the darkness and humbled him in success.  It as that very humility that enabled him to say to his brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”

In Tune with Torah this week = By recognizing, like Joseph, that we are no more than co-authors of our lives, we are empowered to survive without resentment towards the past or despair about the future. Trust in God despite any obstacles or setbacks is his message to us this week. Whatever malice other people may harbor against us, if we can say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” we will survive, our strength intact, our energy undiminished.  May the God of Joseph, Whom we also serve, grant us that same perspective.

If you have found this message helpful, pass it on to a friend.

Shabbat Shalom and blessings to all at this season.

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