The text:
In this week's torah portion, Vayigash, we learn of Joseph’s reconciliation with his family. Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, was sold into slavery by his brother’s because of their jealousy of how their father Jacob favored Joseph. Joseph is able to forgive his brothers for the sake of creating a united family, which at this point encompasses ‘all the children of Israel.’

Instead of faulting his brothers, Joseph believes that g-d needed to have him endure the hardships caused at his brothers' hands in order to ensure the people of Israel's survival. Joseph’s perspective with time allows him to believe that things happen for a reason.[1]

“ I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold to Eqypt; and now, don’t be troubled, don’t be chagrined because you sold me here, for it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5)

Joseph shows incredible resilience in his ability to look beyond the ways in which he was mistreated and is able to start anew. Joseph is an inspirational figure who helps us to understand sometimes we cannot be caught up in fault, but rather it may be about our ability to move forward and see the bigger picture.

The implication:
I have often wondered why as Jews, we read the Torah every single year, and why people study the Torah as intensely as they do. While this may not be the most comprehensive answer, I think that each time the Torah is read we bring a different perspective to our reading of Torah. Our perspective varies and is shaped by current events in our lives, and by how we can apply the teachings and lessons of the torah to our personal situations. The stories of the torah have the ability to be both historic for the Jewish people and simultaneously relate to the modern human experience.

What are the relationships that need repair in your life? How do we learn from Joseph’s tribulations about how to overlook past wrongdoings and move forward for the sake of our family, community, and friendships? While I read Joseph’s story it becomes clear to me that Joseph knew that he was wronged but he didn't let it matter. The brothers additionally knew that they should be asking for forgiveness, and over time they regretted treating Joseph in the way they did because it only caused further strife and guilt in their lives.

It is clear to see from Joseph’s actions that he is the real hero by acting with humility in his familial situation. Joseph could easily have turned his brothers away to fend for themselves while their people were faced with famine. Instead, Joseph shared his good fortune and hard work in order to further the Jewish people, leaving no punishment for those that had wronged him except for their own self-imposed guilt. When we are wrong, admitting that we are wrong allows us to grow from our mistakes. But, there are also the times when we may not have done anything wrong at all. Others' perceptions may make it impossible to do anything without being criticized. Yet we must still act in a mature way as Joseph did, in order to move forward.

Torah is re-read each year as a piece of text may apply differently to your life, dependent on circumstances you currently find yourself in. The text may have the ability to re-teach us lessons in every reading. This year I take it personally in challenges I face. Do I have the ability like Joseph does to forgive others' harmful actions? If I know I am doing the right thing, am I able to look towards the bigger picture, forgetting what has been done for the sake of forging a solid front going forward? Joseph had a special relationship with his father; do people try to harm us out of their own jealousy and insecurities? Is there anything we can do to change someone else’s perceptions? While we may not be able to change our outside world, how do we go about making changes for ourselves?

The application:
Earlier posts refer to why our actions matter, and how we can shape them and have our own control.

Sometimes we need to reflect on our own lives and what we can do to fix relationships that may need repair. As Joseph found, sometimes it is better when looking at the bigger picture to stand up and be the bigger person regardless of the circumstances.

Some ways in which we may be able to do this is by seeking supportive advice either among our friends and family or, if need be, professionally. Other ways can be making time for yourself to reflect, write or meditate. And lastly we must do the challenging work of reaching out and communicating to those relationships in need of repair. Regardless of the circumstances this is often the hardest part of all, either admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness, confronting those who have hurt you, or figuring out how to as Joseph did reconcile without blame. The goal is to reflect in a way that is most productive for yourself, so that you feel you can move forward towards repair.

One such method I’ve had the ability to try is the Jewish ritual practice of Mussar, “a spiritual perspective and also to a discipline of transformative practices… it shines light on the causes of suffering and shows us how to realize our highest spiritual potential, including an everyday experience infused with happiness, trust, and love.” [2] Mussar is an everyday jewish ritual that allows one to be in a constant state of reflection. As Joseph was able to do, may we too be able to reflect and move forward in our conflicts towards reconciliation.

As always here are some resources or organizations that can help you find the ability to reflect in your own life. - Mussar Institute Mussar Leadership - Jewish Meditation Center, Brooklyn

[1] This text lends itself to common cliché phrases we use repeatedly. I apologize in advance.

[2] Morinis, Alan. Everyday Holiness, The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar, pg. 8.