With Rabbi Alex Chapper.
AS WE come to the end of the first book of the Torah, we can review the tremendous amount of intrigue it contained.
Inter alia, we have witnessed jealousy, fratricide, deceit, and fear, all of which were in enough quantity to fill a soap opera’s script for many episodes.
At this juncture, Jacob, the last of the patriarchs, passes away and his children are left to play out the final act. The tension remains until the very end with the question hanging in the air – will there be reconciliation or retribution? Joseph and his brothers have history and there has been an uneasy relationship between them, to the extent that they sold him as a slave thinking they would never see him again.
But here they stand before him – and he is the most powerful man in Egypt, save for Pharaoh, and now the brothers feel extremely vulnerable. This could be Joseph’s moment to take revenge for all the years of hurt and separation he has suffered. Without any other option, they literally throw themselves at his mercy declaring: “We are your slaves”.
In this emotional scene, Joseph responds in a way that is not just magnanimous but is genuinely awe-inspiring as he says to them: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” He further assuages their fear by telling them that even though they intended evil towards him, God meant it for good in order that he could provide for them now. Rabbi S R Hirsch provides the subtitles to Joseph’s words: “God may judge the feelings and intentions of men. But I, a mere man, need only consider the consequences of what was done to me, and when I consider these, I find that in fact I owe you a great debt of gratitude.”
As the final lesson in the book of Bereshit, this could not be more powerful. We have seen so many examples of how not to do interpersonal relationships and here, at the very last, we learn the correct way.
It can be summarised in just a few words: Worry less about others’ motivation and appreciate more their actions. If we can do that, then we are more likely to be able to put aside any pain or upset that other people may cause us and we may actually find reasons to be thankful to them. Our thanks go to Joseph for providing the prototype.
• Rabbi Alex Chapper is minister of Ilford Federation Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi. For more details: www.childrensrabbi.com