In last week’s Torah portion, events just went from bad to worse for Joseph. In the beginning he’s hated by his brothers, then sold into slavery, then made a prisoner, then forgotten by the one person who could possibly help him.
The common theme to all of these events? Arrogance.
He starts off the story as a brat, tattle tailing on his brothers and sharing dreams about how one day he will lord over them. The brothers sell him into slavery, and everything he touches is blessed. He’s proud of his success, proud of his beauty, and even when fighting off the advances of his master’s wife, manages to tell her of his greatness. In prison, he’s again blessed with success in all he does, yet still maintains that he’s been wronged and deserves much better than what he’s gotten.
Yet, an amazing thing happens at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion. For the first time in the Joseph story, we witness him without a shred of arrogance. When Pharaoh remarks on Joseph’s great powers, he replies that all power rests with God. Immediately, he is taken from the lowest of places, a prisoner in a dungeon, to second in power to Pharaoh himself.
We see in Joseph that he had greatness within himself from the beginning. Yet, as long as he attributed the greatness to himself, he only knew misery. Once he recognized that the greatness within him flowed from a higher source, immediately his life was transformed.
Why did he have to suffer so much? Why couldn’t he have gone through life with a bit of ego, like the rest of us? I believe it’s because the role he was to play in the unfolding of our story was so great. The task was given to him to save his entire family, to pave the way for the children of Israel to come to Egypt, where they could blossom into a nation.
Imagine if Joseph had it easier. Imagine if he ascended to second in power in Egypt before he’d fully dealt with his own issues of pride. Surely such an ascension would only cause the pride to grow. Then what would he have done when the very people who sold him into slavery appeared before him? Having the power of life and death over them, it would have been a simple thing for him to take revenge, and the story of our people would have ended then.
Instead, he recognized that everything in his life was part of a bigger plan. With this knowledge, he was able to be the family’s savior, sowing the seeds for all of the greatness that was to come.
It took Joseph thirteen years to deal with his arrogance, yet once he did, once he became the person capable of filling the role set out for him, his ascension was immediate.
I bless us all to recognize the greatness that flows through us, and to understand that we are not the source of our own greatness. Once we do, we’ll be capable of filling the roles set out for us in the continuing unfolding of the human story.