As we continue reading the Joseph story, many of us are surprised by how cruel Joseph appears to be towards his brothers and his beloved father. Joseph’s actions are completely human and expected; how could he have responded otherwise after what his brothers had done to him? Still, with the story recounted in the Torah and Joseph and his brothers presented as role models, we wonder what we are to learn from this story: is it merely long examples of all the things not to do? Or is there something else to be learned?
In our week’s parasha we read of Joseph finally coming out to his brothers and revealing his true identity. To me, this is the most impressive part of the entire story. The Torah relates that Joseph could not hold back any longer (Gen 45:1) – indicating the internal conflict he felt while taking advantage of the confusion to torment his brothers. He wasn’t enjoying exacting revenge – at least not any more. The brothers’ response is fear, worry that Joseph will retaliate after what they’d done to him. Joseph responds with words of comfort and reassurance, words of deep faith: “It was not you who sent me here, it was God” (v. 8). “God sent me here ahead of you, to be able to preserve lives” (v. 5).
Throughout life we all experience times when we have to conceal who we are or a part thereof, but get to a point where we just can’t hold back any longer. We hope to be accepted for who and what we are, but coming out is often difficult and carries a high price. We should hope that our family and community will accept us and show us the love and support we need at these times. Sadly, this is often not the case.
When those around us surprise us with revelations about themselves which we have not been expecting, how do we react to them? In situations like this, whose job is it to comfort whom? Perhaps Joseph’s older brothers could have been more open and accepting of him to begin with and avoided this whole ordeal.
There is so much we can learn from this story. There is so much we can learn from our own lives. Let’s focus on being the best people we can for all those around us whom we love, and for ourselves as well.