Good Comes From Pain and Suffering

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This next Shabbat the Torah reading is Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23, from the prophets: Amos 2:6-3:8, New Testament: Matthew 1:18-25.

The Torah portion of Vayeshev is the beginning of the story of Joseph. The story of Joseph is the first full dramatic short novel. It has all the elements of a novel.

In the beginning the theme is from love to hate. Jacob especially loves Joseph and is partial toward Joseph. Jacob singles out Joseph by giving him a coat of many colors. Jacob’s act makes Joseph’s brothers dislike Joseph even more, they hate Joseph.

As fathers we ought to learn that preferring one child over our other children is never wise or beneficial. It creates a rift between our children, and between us parents and our children. One can understand Jacob at the end of the story how the Lord used the mistakes of Jacob and those of Joseph and the evil intentions of the brothers of Joseph.

Probably the greatest lesson from this Torah portion is that God can use what seems like mistakes, jealousy, hate, problems, even injustice, and get good out of these problems and tribulations. Of course, during the period that you are going through the hard times, you are miserable, maybe bitterly hopeless, and angry.

I am sure that when Joseph was in the well and his future was so unsure, his condition was not so cheerful. I am sure that when he was sold to Potiphar as a slave he couldn’t see much hope of fulfilling the dreams that God gave him in his youth.

What was the power that enabled Joseph to excel in every situation and float above the dim reality of his present situation? Here are the points that I believe Joseph took into account to be able to raise above his present reality and come under the blessings of God.

  1. Stop! Look around for an opportunity to excel.
  2. Seek always to become needed and useful even under the most difficult circumstances, like being put in prison falsely accused of sexual abuse of the wife of your boss!
  3. When you don’t feel blessed look for ways to serve and bless others and make them happy.

The story of Joseph starts with Jacob making Joseph a coat of many colors. The Lord God adds and complicates Joseph’s situation with dreams of grandeur.

Joseph dreams that his brothers will worship him, and bow down to him. Here, like all the great dreams of the Bible, they appear in two versions that have the same meaning.

This pattern is repeated with Pharaoh’s dreams. The same dream in two versions, one with cows and the other with sheaves of wheat.

There is one thing that is very noticeable in the story of Joseph. Joseph never complains. He accepts the situation and no matter where he is placed his service is noticed and He is upgraded and raised to high positions in every circumstance.

This attitude and force in Joseph’s character, I attribute to the faith that Joseph had received through his dreams. He believed that he will be great and his brothers will worship him.

This faith in God’s promises was the force that kept Joseph sane, and allowed him to focus on his work and to be successful and to display excellence through his service. Joseph understood the principle that Paul so wonderfully states in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 [NKJV]

This verse speaks in the plural, “We know…” I propose to you, my dear brothers and sisters ,the following proposal: We now, in this generation, still don’t know this truth. But, we must learn it and do so quickly.

The future of this world, and especially of us in Israel, does not seem to be an easy future. The challenges that we have as a people, and as the state of Israel, seem great and difficult and there might be some that we might not be able to pass through or overcome easily.

We need to believe these words of the apostle Paul and see the reflection of this truth in the story of Joseph. Joseph believed the promises of God, to the point that even during his slavery in the house of Potiphar, in Egypt, and even in the Egyptian prison, he maintained his desire to serve and excel in all the things that he did, and that created an opportunity for him to be raised from the jail and to be the second in Egypt, only to the great Pharaoh.

I have read a few books of self-improvement, and a few books on management. However, none of these modern books of self-improvement had the force or influence on me that the story of Joseph and his brothers did.

Here is a short list of what we can learn from the story of Joseph in the Torah – Joseph went:

  1. From riches to poverty.
  2. From being loved by his father to be hated by his brothers.
  3. From poverty and jail in the Egyptian prison (for a false accusation, while being totally innocent) to becoming second to the great Pharaoh.
  4. Joseph did not return evil for the evil that his brothers did him.

Joseph understood the principle that the apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:28:

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” – Genesis 50:20 [NKJV]

If we could understand this principle that is so prevailing in the whole Bible, and in our Jewish history as well, even until this very day, we would be so much more secure and so much more convicted and encouraged even through the days of stressful events. Our insecurities and doubts come from the fact that we don’t understand that somethings don’t happen without pain, and without suffering.

The best example of this principle is a woman who is giving birth. There is no birth without at least some pain and suffering.

Every time that we want to change and improve something in our own lives and in our world it involves stress, pain, suffering, sometimes mocking and ridicule, and other times physical abuse and beating, 49 stripes with a whip, like the apostle Paul experienced more than once in his life as he says in the second letter to the church in Corinth:

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.” – 2 Corinthians 11:24 [NKJV]

I personally have experienced three times attempts on my life. The first time was on Mount Zion coming out of the Yeshiva in the mid 1970’s.

The second time was when at 3:00 a.m. two Molotov cocktails penetrated our big bay window in the living room. One of the bottles actually exploded and burned our new leather sofa.

I was able to put the fire out because we had fire extinguishers at home. The other, thank God, didn’t explode and remained intact because it fell on top of the sofa.

The third time was when someone at 5:00 am removed the lug nuts and cotter pin of the right front wheel of my car. Fortunately the right front wheel broke when I was a few yards from a red light. The damage to the car was minimal. I was not hurt, the car was repaired and a police report was filed against those whom we suspected had done it.

In my case, every time the opposition intended horrible evil, the Lord turned it around and created great opportunities for sharing the Good News. In the case of the two Molotov Cocktails (fire bombs) it happened at 3:00 a.m., and at 6:00 a.m. all the Israeli Television and News networks were in my apartment interviewing me, and they broadcasted the news of the attempted bombing every hour on the hour throughout the whole day.

I had 3.5 minutes of time to share who I am, why I think that the Molotov cocktails were lobbed into my living room, and how long I thought these attacks might continue. Yes, even the most horrible things that happen to us create opportunities for great things to happen for the Kingdom of God.

I could use macro-historical events like World War II and the great evils that occurred and the many important technological developments that resulted that have benefited the whole world. The highways that exist in the world and in Europe were built just prior to and during the beginning of the war.

The principle is that events take place and create a situation that could be very unpleasant and sometimes painful, but the aftermath of these kinds of events could be a wonderful streak of publications, and personal interviews, and even support from groups that believe in religious freedom and freedom to express your faith without the fear of persecution.

Joseph is a great example of this principle, and the story of Joseph and his attitude toward his brothers, who wouldn’t even say “shalom” to him and hated him, is one of these wonderful demonstrations of the power of God to turn difficult and hard events in our lives around 180 degrees, to the point where our lives are changed for good.

Joseph is my hero and his story has so many parallels with the story of the Messiah that on another occasion Netivyah will republish Elchanan Ben Abraham’s small booklet about Joseph son of Jacob and Yeshua son of God!

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.