Thus, the book of Genesis ends (and this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, also ends) on a note that foreshadows the transition to come. Things were good for the sons of Jacob in Egypt, but their happiness would not last long. Eventually, an act of God would be necessary to bring them back to the land of Israel.
Sorry for the spoiler.
In a way, the whole last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis, comprising four weekly Torah portions, is one big example of foreshadowing and transition. From the perspective of pure storytelling technique, Joseph’s story serves a simple function. For the Torah to continue, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have to get to Egypt.
If there were no Joseph story to bring the brothers to Egypt, there would be no need for God to deliver them from slavery. No Moses. No Ten Commandments. No wandering through the wilderness. No redemption. The Joseph story is an artistic masterpiece and it is filled with great spiritual lessons, but it also is the literary equivalent of a highway cloverleaf — a way to exit one road and enter another.
And, yet, there is also a spiritual truth in this literary structure. Life is filled with such cloverleaves — moments of painful change that we might mistake for the highway itself. Life is also filled with times of transition — moments when we think we are “just passing through” — that turn out to be great journeys unto themselves.
Do you remember the time when you suffered a terrible situation that unexpectedly turned out to be all for the best? Most of us do. Most of us have suffered setbacks that, in retrospect, seem like the best things that ever happened to us. When we consider the stories of our lives from the distance of time, we think, “It felt terrible when it happened, but if it had not happened that way, I would not be where I am today.”
I’ve got moments like that: The job I left twenty years ago that sent me on the path toward rabbinic school. The unpleasant breakup that allowed me to meet my future wife. The years of uncertainty that the two of us had to endure before the birth of our child. Over and over in my life, I have experienced painful setbacks that led to miracles.
How about you? What were the moments of despair that turned out to be your transitions to renewal? What were the cloverleaves that turned out to be the journey?
Remember where the story of the Torah is taking us. Joseph was thrown into the pit so that he could eventually save his family from starvation. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt so that Moses could lead them to freedom. The Israelites suffered hardship in the wilderness so that God would redeem them and transform them into a great nation.
This is life. Our life. We travel a long journey along a twisted highway to discover our own redemption.
Other Posts on This Topic:
A Mystical City and the Benefit of the Doubt
Vayechi: Repair of the Dysfunctional Family