Joseph’s Story/Our Collective Narrative
December 18, 2020
By Cheryl Stein

Joseph’s story is one of falling from grace, and then rising back up stronger than before. In Parsha (Torah portion) Vayeshev, Joseph hits rock bottom. Once the favored, spoiled child of his father, Joseph is cast out from his position by his jealous brothers, who first toss him down into a pit and then sell him into slavery. His life continues to get worse, as he is falsely accused by his master’s wife which lands him in jail. His life’s trajectory is one of descent: from elevated son to lowly captive.

And then, in this week’s portion, Miketz, Joseph’s fortunes turn and he swiftly advances to become the most powerful man in Egypt aside from Pharaoh. In a flash, a blink of fate, he goes from prisoner to prime minister.

Joseph’s journey from degradation to dignity foreshadows the larger story of the Jewish people; on many levels, it is our people’s narrative. When we despair, may we find hope in our history that reminds us again and again that the last chapter of our story has not yet been written.

Consider our celebration this week of Hanukkah, wherein the darkness of persecution at the hands of the Greeks gives way to the light of the Menorah.  And then in a few weeks, we’ll celebrate Purim, wherein the wicked plot of Haman brings us to almost being wiped out, only to find last-minute salvation at the hands of Esther.

Further, what was true of our ancient history has striking resonance in our modern story:  The Shoah, between 1941 and1945, and only three years later, David Ben-Gurion declaring the establishment of a Jewish State. In so many ways, over so many years, we are the ones who have experienced the depths of hardship and yet have risen from that dark place to new and unexpected light.

We have all known times of darkness and hardship when it feels like our trajectory, or the trajectory of our world, mirrors that of Joseph – a steep and treacherous descent. In those moments, we fear that light will never re-enter our lives and that we will stay in the pit forever. But, the blessing of being part of an ancient people is that it gives us long memories, a reminder that we have been here before.

We can derive strength and encouragement in our day to day lives from this as well. We must always keep in mind that nothing is forever. Difficult situations like the one we are living through now, ultimately come to an end, and we sometimes even forget they ever happened. In every difficult situation we should try to keep in mind that the end of the trouble may be just around the bend.  And like the story of Joseph, the knowledge that there is light at the end of the tunnel gives one the strength to go on.

Cheryl Stein is a local real estate attorney, past president of Kehillat Ohr Tzion, and current member of the Buffalo Jewish Federation Board of Governors.

Joseph's Story/Our Collective Narrative - Jewish thought of the week graphic