7 Lessons From the Story of Joseph

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This Shabbat we are in the middle of the story of Joseph and His brothers! I should say, Joseph and his coat of many colors! This Broadway show has a very interesting name. I received an enlightened view of the story of Joseph in the Bible from the title of this Broadway operetta.

This Shabbat we are reading from the Torah: Genesis 41:1-44:17, from the prophets: Zechariah 2:14-4:7, and from the New Testament: Luke 24:13-29.

The reading from the Torah starts with the following words:

“Then it came to pass, at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh had a dream; and behold, he stood by the river.” – Genesis 41:1 [NKJV]

What kind of statement is this: “Then it came to pass…”? A statement like this can only have meaning if there is predetermined activity! Something expected, programmed, for example, the director gives the word, the cameras start rolling, the actors enter the stage, and the action begins… The story of Joseph is a classic lesson for every human being and for all times.

Joseph starts out at the top: he is loved by his father. Let’s forget about Joseph and put ourselves in his place. You are pampered by your father and mother! You have been given the best that your family has to offer!
You’re not concerned about those around you. You see everything from your own personal perspective! What a wonderful world you are experiencing in your father’s house! You have forgotten that there are others living with you in the same house. They don’t have a coat of many colors!

Winter is coming and your “brothers” might not have a coat of any color, no coats at all! On top of it all you goad your brothers and make them jealous with your visions of grandeur; “I will be the Sun and you my brothers will dance around me,” you have forgotten that you are just an actor who happens to have the lead in the show. Your brothers and parents are also only actors in the same show!

We should not forget the words of William Shakespeare, in “As You Like it!” Act II, Scene VII:

Jaques to Duke Senior

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The essence of the biblical story of Joseph is that the forces that drive history, our own private history and the history of empires like Egypt and Rome and all forces in His world, God’s world, are beyond us. We are not helpless, we are not robots, we have a free will to decide our own destiny, but beyond our own destiny there is the destiny of God’s world.

That destiny that was predetermined before the creation of the world will not change. This world was created with a beginning and with an end. Like all the worlds, and galaxies throughout space, our own galaxy will one day form a nova and the next day become a “black hole”. Yes, you can find this theory in the Bible, both the old and new testaments!

We might not like it that there is “someone” who controls our planet, and our solar system! I apologize, I cannot do anything about this, and neither can you, nor the president, or the prime minister, or any of the governments of every nation and people on the face of this earth.

The best part about the story of Joseph is the end of His story and the most important part! He makes peace with his brothers and there is reconciliation and restoration of relationships the family is reunited and for nearly 200 years, will enjoy the wealth of Egypt and the plentiful provision of the Lord in the land of Goshen!

Let me continue and zoom in at a higher resolution to examine the story of Joseph. From the very beginning of the story of Joseph, from his birth, Joseph is special. He is born to Jacob’s wife Rachel who was not able to have children for a long time.

Finally, Rachel has a son, Joseph! This is the son that Rachel had been waiting for! Joseph is the son that Jacob had wished for.

Jacob had always wanted to have a son from his beloved wife. From the wife for which he had worked 14 years and to whom he had been married for more than 20 years before Joseph was born. Leah, Rachel’s older sister had seven children before Rachel had Joseph.

It’s no wonder that Jacob considered Joseph to be special. He was Jacob’s son from his beloved wife, Rachel. This great advantage, the special love that Jacob had for Joseph, became Joseph’s greatest challenge. What added to Joseph’s challenge was the special place and destiny that God had for him. It was God who gave Joseph his visions of greatness over his brothers and even over his father and mother.

This extraordinary position in the grand scheme of redemption for Israel and the world was placed on a very young man, who was pampered by his father and favored over his 10 other brothers Here is a lesson for each of us! With every cloud comes a silver lining and after every silver lining comes another cloud!

With every blessing with which the Lord blesses us comes responsibilities and challenges, tests and examinations to see if we know how to use justly and righteously the gifts and talents that God gives us. For some people who are exceedingly blessed and don’t want or chose to exercise the gifts and the calling of God rightly – the blessings turn into a detriment.

The next important lesson to learn from Joseph’s story in our Torah reading is this: Learn to appreciate and to always know how to make lemons into lemonade! In all of life’s circumstances, in the well that your brothers put you down, as a slave in the house of Potiphar the Priest of On, remember who you are and remember to maintain your high moral values.

Even in the palace of the great Pharaoh, lifted up from the prison to the palace, from rags to riches, don’t forget who you are and under whose authority you must function. Joseph’s greatness was exactly this quality. He never forgot who he was, and what God had promised him.

We all have promises from God! We might not get them in a dream or a vision directly from God, but we have the promises that God gave His children, the redeemed of the Lord, you and I, between the covers of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. If we will take God’s promises seriously and put our faith and our hope and our energy into appropriating these promises, our lives will be so much more fulfilled.

If we accept the fulfillment of God’s promises in our own lives, by our faith and hope and love of the Lord, without regard to what our job is, and where we live, and what possessions, or lack of possessions we have, we too would see the Joseph story being played out in our own lives.

The last lesson that we must learn from the story of Joseph is that at the same time that we are experiencing God’s grace in our lives and are enjoying our greatness, we must also remember our goals and stay humble and always place the Lord first in our lives. Never forget who you are, where you came from, who your ultimate authority is and what is your ultimate goal in life.

If I were to summarize what I learned from Joseph’s story, it would be:

  1. Always trust God and His word more than you trust your own brothers and sisters!
  2. Accept your good fortune today and do your best to benefit from it, because tomorrow it might change. Nothing is certain in this world, except God’s promises! The history of Israel is the greatest proof of this.
  3. Dance to the music that is being played! Follow the conductor when the music is playing and don’t try to play by your own tune. You are just one of the musicians; you have the music in front of you, so learn to follow the notes. If you are a dancer learn to dance with the music! Remember the music can change at the wave of the conductor’s baton.
  4. Forgive and don’t hold a grudge against your brothers even if they act like pigs and hurt you! Never say that you will never forgive your enemies either from within or from without. Always seek peace with everyone but if you find yourself at war, always fight to win!
  5. Being in the right is the source of your strength! Joseph, even when he was lying in a damp, dark Egyptian prison, never used his suffering as an excuse to do evil to others. He always looked for opportunities to do good, even when he was in the prison!
  6. The Lord will vindicate His servants. The wheel is turning and never stops! Those who are on top today might be on the bottom tomorrow. For this reason, do right today, be generous, humble, gracious, and faithful today, so that tomorrow you will not experience a lack of those willing to be kind to you. While a prisoner, Joseph learned that it not only pays to always be a servant of God, but to also be a faithful servant to others, to Pharaoh’s baker and butler as well as to his other fellow prisoners, all of whom enjoyed Joseph’s best even though he too was imprisoned, which in the end, caused them to remember Joseph’s kindness.
  7. Don’t do your family laundry in front of strangers, especially not Egyptian strangers!

The Lord is always the same and His actions in the world never change! He lifts up and brings down! He gives life and takes it! He rewards the faithful and punishes the unfaithful. His rewards are eternal, and His blessings, punishments and tests in this life are always temporary.

All glory and honor and praise are due to the Lord eternally!

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.