One of the most important keys to living a happy life is knowing how to forgive.
Most people carry around with them some form of resentment. Sometimes they are for small wounds like a broken relationship or loss of a job, and sometimes the wounds are much more significant like abuse or violence. But harboring such feelings only causes emotional sadness, negative effects on one’s health and higher levels of stress.
So how can we forgive someone who has done something so cruel to us, we feel that it has left a permanent stain on our heart? How can we let go of that resentment when we feel that this person has significantly affected our quality of life?
Well, if it there is anyone in the Torah who can teach us a lesson or two about forgiveness it is Yosef and we need to look no farther than this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayigash.
We have been reading about the dramatic tale of the sons of Yaakov selling their brother Yosef into Egyptian slavery. 22 years later they find themselves standing before Yosef who has risen to become the second to most powerful man in Egypt, one of the world’s elite empires. Despite his high position in a most immoral setting, Yosef has nonetheless kept his faith strong and his spirit pure.
As Yosef reveals his identity they realize that their assessment of him all along as a narcissist, a dreamer, and a slanderer, had been incorrect. And then, in a moment of awkward silence and utter shock, Yosef comforts them by telling them not to worry, “this was all part of the divine plan.”
What is the message that Yosef is relaying? Clearly, they had made the decision to sell him to Egypt, how could he completely absolve them by attributing everything to a divine plan?
But let’s look at the story from a different angle. The Torah teaches us that the decent of the Jewish people to Egypt was part of the divine plan all along, a plan that God already relayed to Avraham long before. The family of Yaakov were destined to become “strangers in a strange land” in order to build a foundation for the Jewish nation who would be spending much of their future in similar circumstances.
And what better way to enter Egypt for this extended stay then to have the most righteous human being, Yosef, already planted in Egypt. Yosef, the one who would refuse the most tempting behavior, had already shown that the impure forces of Egypt can be overcome. It would be his hand who would be feeding his brothers upon their arrival so that they would not have to receive their sustenance from the impure forces of Egypt, rather from the hand of God through his vehicle Yosef. With this stage set the Jewish people would be able to withstand their extended stay and never sink to that “level of no return”.
So if that was the master plan all along, what role did the brothers play?
They certainly cannot be blamed for the outcome of their actions as this was already predestined. Their sin is only the hatred and jealousy that they allowed to linger in their hearts and blur their assessment of who Yosef really was. Utilizing their free will properly they would have overcome these negative emotions and discovered the truth, but they allowed this hatred and jealousy to burn. Once they used their free will improperly God made them the vehicle to bring about an occurrence that was destined to happen anyhow.
When Yosef comforted them he wasn’t telling them they had done nothing wrong, for in fact their hatred and jealousy were unwarranted. Rather he was letting them know that their guilt shouldn’t be on the predicament that they are finding themselves in, rather the impure emotions that they had felt 22 years prior. It was for this they needed to repent.
Yosef is teaching us that the first step in forgiveness is to realize that even though a friend, relative, boss or another might have used their own free will to hurt us, the outcome of their actions is still in the Almighty’s hand. He always wants the best for us. He has a plan for us, and even though we might not understand how everything fits into that plan, nothing can happen to us that cannot bring us closer to fulfilling our mission in this world. And even when others make mistakes, hurt us, and knock us down, He is right there to make sure we land exactly where we are supposed to.