Monday, August 24, 2020
Fourth Day of Elul 5780
In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, there is a moment when Joseph’s half-brothers appeared before him without recognizing him. They came to Egypt to ask for food to survive a famine, so they were desperate and hungry. They did not know that the high Egyptian official they had to ask was actually the half-brother they had sold into slavery many years before.
At first, Joseph taunted his half-brothers. He seemed to want revenge for their past cruelty to him. He told them that he would not give them any more food until they brought their youngest sibling, Benjamin, to him. (Benjamin was Joseph’s only full brother, the one he and his father, Jacob, loved the most, and the only one who was not part of selling Joseph into slavery). When the brothers, at last, brought Benjamin to Joseph, he took the boy as a captive and told the others that he would not allow them to take Benjamin back to their father, Jacob.
In response, one of Joseph’s half-brothers, Judah, spoke in a way that broke Joseph’s heart. He told Joseph that Benjamin was the only son their father had left from Rachel, the love of his life who died while giving birth to Benjamin. Rachel’s only other son, Judah explained, had died many years earlier. (Joseph, of course, knew that this other son, the one who supposedly had died, was actually himself.) Judah told Joseph that if he and his brothers returned home without Benjamin, it would cause Jacob to die of grief. Joseph was so moved by Judah’s speech that he cried out and revealed his true identity and told the brothers that he forgave them and would not punish them for selling him into slavery.
In the story, we see Joseph make the transition from anger and feelings of revenge and hurt to compassion and feelings of forgiveness. The story is one of the models used by the rabbis to describe the experience of t’shuvah. Part of repentance is the experience of letting go of past pain and resentment. It is the experience of allowing love to wash away hurt feelings, to allow forgiveness to overcome hatred. (Note: This can be very difficult for people who carry deep wounds from past abuse and cruelty. If you struggle with this, consider seeking help from a professional.)
Practice for this day:
Think of a moment in your life when you let go of anger to forgive someone who had hurt you. For now, don’t think about a really big experience. Think of something small and specific that reminds you of how Joseph let go of anger and moved toward forgiveness.
Describe it briefly below: