Written by: Avrohom S. Moller
VaYigash is the third parsha which discusses the dramatic events which took place around Yosef and his brothers. This week begins with a very intense exchange between Yehudah and Yosef climaxing with Yosef’s revelation of his true identity and his brothers’ stunned reaction. Instead of pressing his advantage and telling his brothers that he has prevailed and is vindicated, he comforts them and encourages them. “Do not be saddened or distressed that you sold me to this land, as Hashem has sent me ahead to preserve life.” Yosef repeats this message to his brothers several times, and it is clear that he truly viewed the entire struggle and hardship that he had endured with this perspective. He saw himself as an agent of Hashem to save his family and to save human civilization from a devastating famine and that his brothers had only acted as agents of Hashem to see this grand plan through.
This outlook is definitely rooted in Yosef HaTzaddik’s great faith and belief that, “…one doesn’t nick a figure in this world unless it has been decreed in the world above”(Chulin 7a). Dovid HaMelech expressed a similar sentiment when faced with the horrid curses which Shimi ben Geira hurled at him in his moment of distress. Dovid’s perspective was, ”Hashem told him to curse.” There is also a very important psychological lesson and benefit which should be learned from these great people’s behavior.
Victimhood is a toxic state of being. While some people might be justified in considering themselves victims of circumstance of other people’s bad choices or bad fortune, it is the feeling of victimhood that actually is the most debilitating. People who see themselves as the misfortunate target of negative circumstances feel helpless and don’t have any agency. They engage in self-pity and focus on the injustice of everything that happens to them and take no initiative to better their lot. If a person sees challenges as opportunities to grow or to be part of a bright but unseen future, they are empowered to improve their situation and grow tremendously from the experience.
Yosef did exactly that. He could have railed against his brothers, his father, and even Hashem for all the unfair things which had happened to him. That would not have gotten him anywhere, and he would have died in the pit in squalor and self-pity, unknown to anyone. Instead, he became a champion, a powerful man who used his talent and wisdom to save a generation and make a future for his people. This was all a result of his acceptance of what life dealt him, his faith in Hashem and his enormous ability to overlook the pain and wrong inflicted by his family.