>Spending the second year of my rabbinic programme in Israel was probably the single best decision I have ever made. I was able to build wonderful friendships with my fellow students. I was taught by inspirational teachers who made the subjects come alive and led me to deeper and further study. And most importantly, I met a young American girl, studying for her Jewish Education Masters, who would become my wife. All in all it was a very successful year.
However, many of the factors which led me to decide to spend my second year in Israel were beyond my control; and in the preceding years there were several times when I questioned whether I had made the right decisions for myself. Through various trials and tribulations I wondered about the paths not taken, and the opportunities not explored. It was hard for me to accept that I was on the right path until I found myself in Israel for that very special year, and I realised that this had been the plan for me all along.
I like to imagine that Joseph had similar feelings about the way his life had worked out. When he was thrown into the pit by his brothers (Genesis 37:24) we can picture the arrogant young boy begin to doubt that his destiny really would involve the adulation, which his prior dreams had foretold. As a slave being taken away by the Midianite traders (Genesis 37:28) Joseph must have begun to see a future which would be filled with hardship and struggle, with no more elaborate coats or paternal favouritism.
And while things looked up for Joseph briefly while he prospered in the house of Potiphar (Genesis 39:2), these good times were short lived as he was sent to prison after the alleged attempt to seduce Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:20). In prison Joseph could have given up, but he continued to work hard, finding favour with the prison warden (Genesis 39:23).
Ultimately as we all know Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was placed in charge of the entire land of Egypt (Genesis 41:41). So that when his brothers came to buy food they stood before him and they bowed down low asking him, as their master, to permit them to buy food to take back to Canaan. Joseph as Pharaoh’s number two, was able to realise that all of the challenges along his journey had been intended to bring him to that specific point, so that he could say to his brothers: ‘it is not you who sent me here but God who made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord of all his household, a ruler of the whole land of Egypt’ (Genesis 45:8).
Joseph did not blame his brothers for selling him into slavery, a path which ultimately led him as low as a prison in Egypt. Instead he saw that it was all part of God’s plan. The hardships were necessary so that he could reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
When we are in the midst of a difficult situation it can be hard to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel, let alone see it. But we can remember the story of Joseph and his experiences. Along the way I am sure that at various points he cursed his brothers, and maybe even questioned God, but at the end he was able to see the higher purpose, towards which he had always been travelling. It was not a direct road, and there were many bumps along the way, but Joseph made it. And he therefore serves as an example for us to overcome challenges along the paths of our lives, looking forward to a positive future.