From Joseph’s story we learn when God is with us

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO — In Parashat Va-yeshev, Joseph’s jealous brothers throw him in a pit. From there he is carried off to Egypt. He works for Potiphar and all goes well until he refuses the advances of Mrs. Potiphar.

Joseph is thrown in jail and interprets the dreams of the royal baker and cupbearer. He asks the cupbearer to remember him to Pharaoh, but the cupbearer forgets about Joseph as soon as he is released from jail.

Until his run-in with Mrs. Potiphar, things had been good for Joseph. The Torah tells us: “God was with Joseph and he was a successful man in the home of his Egyptian master.” (Gen. 39:2)

Rabbi Mordechai of Chernoble (the same city of failed nuclear power plant fame, which at one time had a sizable Jewish population) calls our attention to the strange syntax of the some of this Hebrew verse. The Torah uses the Hebrew word Va-yehi, “and so it was”, three times in the same sentence. And “so it was” that God was with Joseph, and “so it was” that Joseph was successful and “so it was” that he was in the home of his Egyptian master.

Rabbi Mordechai explained the construction of the verse in the following way:

There are people, he wrote, who are poor and destitute and yet manage to live humbly with God, grateful for all of the little gifts that God grants them. However, these same people, if they become wealthy, may forget their simple beginnings, become filled with their own inflated egos, and forget the Source of their blessings.

But sometimes the opposite happens. When things go well for some people they ignore God. But if something goes wrong and they become challenged or impoverished, they blame God and exclude God from their lives.

Joseph was not like either of these types of people. The Torah hints that God was with Joseph and Joseph was with God when he was rich, independent, and successful, and also when he was a destitute slave in his master’s house. Regardless of his success or failure, Joseph kept God on his mind and in his heart.

(Va-yehi) God was with Joseph, (va-yehi) whether he was successful or (va-yehi) a slave in his master’s house”

We should follow Joseph’s example. Our faith in God and gratitude for our blessings should not depend on what our day is like, so that we curse God when things go wrong and praise God when things go well. Whether we are enjoying life’s successes or weathering its tribulations, we should remember that God is always with us, cheering us on when we succeed, and drying our tears when we fail.

I wish each and every one of you and all those you love, a very happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego. He may be contacted via [email protected]

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