We all know that it is relatively easy for us to sense God’s presence and favor when everything in our lives is going our way and our hearts are filled with gratitude and overflowing with the happiness of love and the joy of life.
But at the same time, we also know that when we are tried with sorrow and days of anguish are allotted to us, we tend to have great difficulty sensing or perceiving the goodness or nearness of God in our lives.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the epic saga of Joseph is the scriptural focus of Jewish congregations throughout the world.
The book of Genesis recounts that Joseph grew up in a household where he was so favored by his father, Jacob, that his numerous older brothers resented him greatly.
But even his doting parent was not amused by Joseph’s innate and precocious ability to interpret dreams in a way that posited Joseph’s ascendancy over them all. As a result, Joseph’s aggrieved brothers sold him into slavery, concocting a story for their father recounting how wild beasts had tragically killed his “little darling.”
And just when it seemed that things just couldn’t possibly get any worse in his life, Joseph was thrown into prison in Egypt after having been falsely accused of making amorous advances toward the wife of Potiphar, his own slave master.
For the next two years Joseph languished in that Egyptian dungeon where his ability to accurately interpret dreams served the inmate population alone, and where everyone, including God, had seemingly forgotten him.
But even down there, God had not forsaken him. Thanks to the kind words of one of his former inmates, Joseph was suddenly summoned from the dungeon by Pharaoh to interpret seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine implication of the king’s own dreams.
By accurately doing so, Joseph’s life changed radically overnight. In gratitude, Pharaoh appointed him vice-regent over all Egypt, and provided him an Egyptian wife from a prominent family. In a regal chariot, Joseph now traversed the land, meeting with the highest Egyptian statesmen and officials.
And when seven years later, the predicted famine arrived, the entire known world — including his father, Jacob, and his estranged brothers — came to Joseph in Egypt for their portion of his stores of food.
In short, the Joseph narrative teaches us that whenever we are tried by sorrow and days of anguish are allotted to us, it is not that God has forsaken us. For even in our own darkest hours and dankest of dungeons, God’s eye is ever upon us and God’s arm is still guiding us through trials and tribulations that may actually be blessings in disguise.
Larry Schlesinger, is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Beth Israel.