In the musical Avenue Q, the story begins with Princeton, a recent college graduate trying to find his way in the world. He is unsure what he is supposed to do or who he is supposed to become. As he sings: ‘I don’t know how I know, but I’m going to find my purpose… gotta find my purpose, before it’s too late.’ The song appears to suggest that each one of us has a purpose towards which we should be living our lives, as though there is something pre-determined towards which we should all be aspiring.
Joseph’s life has been one filled with ups and downs. As Jacob’s favorite son, his childhood was filled with preferential treatment in the family. However, his brothers exacted their revenge selling him into slavery. Despite these challenges Joseph overcame them to become the head of Potiphar’s house in Egypt. But after the attempted seduction by Potiphar’s wife he found himself at his lowest point in Egypt’s jail. From there he rose to the very top of Egyptian society as Pharaoh’s vizier and the man responsible for saving Egypt from the effects of a seven year famine.
This week there is finally the moment where Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. ‘And Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph; does my father still live? And his brothers could not answer him; for they were troubled by his presence’ (Genesis 45:3). It is hardly surprising that Joseph’s brothers were surprised to see him, and it is likely that their surprise was coupled with a sense of fear as to what repercussions there may be for having sold him into slavery.
Joseph is quick to reassure them ‘Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life’ (Genesis 45:5). While the brothers may rightly feel guilty for what they have done, Joseph appears to have absolved them of guilt attributing what happened to God. Emphasizing it by telling them: ‘And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God’ (Genesis 45:7-8).
As the brothers are reunited it is clear that Joseph bears them no ill will, instead attributing all that has happened to God. I wonder whether he felt as positively towards them when the Ishmaelites were leading him away into slavery, or when he was placed in jail by Potiphar.
Joseph reminds us that we might not all find our purpose at a very young age, and that as the popular saying goes: ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’. Joseph’s purpose was to save Egypt from the famine, and by extension save his own family. There were times when he must have doubted that he would find or achieve his purpose, but despite the highs and lows he ultimately reached exactly the place that God had always intended for him.
And if you want to listen to this Two Minutes of Torah: