We could easily view the first 30 years of Joseph’s life as a roller-coaster. As a young man he is described as a favourite son to his father, he is given a special coat and dreams of grandeur are revealed to him – he is on the way up! But then things go downhill for Joseph; through the jealousy of his brothers he is initially thrown into a pit and then descends further as he is sold as a slave to Egypt.
After Joseph arrives in Egypt he is on the ascent. He is bought by one of Pharaoh’s ministers and becomes successful to such an extent that his master trusts him to manage his entire household. But then Joseph dips right back down again; his master’s wife falsely accuses him of adultery and he ends up in prison for 12 years. But then, as described at the beginning of this week’s sedra, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams successfully and is elevated from the depths of the dungeon to become the Prime Minister of Egypt – a position he then holds for 80 years.
A closer analysis of the ups and downs of the first 30 years of Joseph’s life reveals to us an important lesson. It seems that whenever Joseph is focused on himself and his own greatness he falls and when he starts to think of others he is elevated. Through revealing his own dreams to his brothers he evokes jealousy and descends; by helping and supporting his master in Egypt he ascends; through focusing on his physical beauty he attracts the attention of his master’s wife anddescends into prison and his elevation from that prison clearly hinges on his shift of focus, to care for others:
“And Joseph came to them (his fellow prisoners – the butler and the baker) in the morning and he saw that they were aggrieved. And he asked them . . . why are your faces downcast today?” (Bereishit 40:6-7)
This conversation, which is recorded for eternity in the Torah, was a crucial turning point. Through focusing on the distress of his fellow prisoners they open up to Joseph and reveal their dreams to him. And it is Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams that hold the key to the release of Joseph from prison when he is called upon to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.
We all face challenging times in our lives and we need to deal with these challenges; but we can elevate ourselves as well as our personal situation by keeping our eyes and hearts open to the people and community around us to see what we can do to help.