The Torah is quite clear about the reality of life: it is not easy, it is not fair, but within its struggles and challenges, with faith and vision we can overcome and triumph. Last week we read the story of the third of our patriarchs, Jacob, being renamed Israel, a name which according to the Torah means, “one who has struggled with beings Divine and human and overcome.” We, his descendants, know his story as our own – life will be filled with struggles, with ups and downs. That lesson is the subject of the epic story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob/Israel, which begins in Parashat Vayeshev and continues through the end of the Book of Genesis.
Joseph is a dreamer, a man with a vision, which he understands as a gift from God. His dream indicates that in a future time he will have leadership over his father and his siblings, something that concerns his father and angers his brothers. When the opportunity arises, they throw him in a dry well and debate whether or not to kill him. Instead, they sell him into slavery in Egypt. Here Joseph has some luck, rising to the position of running the household for a wealthy and powerful man, until this man’s wife falsely accuses Joseph of attempting to rape her, leading to Joseph’s being imprisoned. The depths to which Joseph descends are deep indeed.
Yet in all this, Joseph never gives up on his dream or his vision. He understands, just like his father before him, that things are not delivered to us on a silver platter. Life presents each of us with different opportunities and different challenges – and in the journey of our lives we will certainly have struggles; circumstances will take us down. Even in the depths, Joseph maintains his faith that he has a purpose and role to play; at the end of his life, he indeed is providing protection for the rest of his family. Similarly, we, the Jews, have held on to our faith and vision – despite the hardships and oppression we have suffered over thousands of years – to serve the mystery of life by making it better for others with equity and compassion. Each of us, as individuals, should remember that even when we are in the pit of despair, life holds purpose for us. May we, like Joseph, keep our dreams in front of us so that like our namesake Israel, we overcome the struggles we encounter in life.