Seeing The Bigger Picture

Joseph reminds us that our perspective of reality is limited compared to the ultimate meaning that God perceives.

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Response to Their Fear

Yet Joseph’s position as a religious role model emerges from his response to their fear. Rather than restricting his perspective to his own subjective position, Joseph struggles to understand what happened from God’s vantage point.  So he says,

"Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result--the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.”

According to Rashi (11th-century France), Joseph is struck by the fact that although his father may no longer be living, the God of Israel still lives, and still commands moral behavior. The standards of Israel’s God, embodied in the Torah and in later rabbinic sources, retain a commanding voice because Israel’s commander still speaks.

From the human perspective, Josephs’ brothers sold their brother into slavery. From the divine perspective, they initiated a process that would assure the survival of countless human beings many years later.

We cannot know the consequences of our deeds. Like Joseph’s brothers, we must be responsible for our own actions from our own perspective. But like Joseph himself, we also need to look to a higher, more encompassing vision of what life can be. Joseph’s response is an articulate reminder that we do not assign ultimate meaning; God does.

May your perspective reflect God’s vision of a world redeemed.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.