When we’re down, we have to have the “Joseph attitude.” We have to look for the good even in the midst of the bad!
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeishev” (Genesis 37:1–40:23). In it we read how Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave to Arab merchants. The Arab merchants he was sold to were spice dealers. Now, in those days, spice dealers were somewhat like, well, fish dealers: they didn’t smell like roses…they always stank! This is because when spice dealers would peddle their wares, they would have not only their nice smelling spices, but their foul smelling ones, as well.
Here’s something interesting though: According to our sages, these particular Arab merchants to whom Joseph was sold were transporting only pleasant-smelling spices. We are told that this was a minor miracle that was performed in Joseph’s honor so that he would not have to suffer the journey down to Egypt in foul-smelling surroundings. God was orchestrating everything. Yes, Joseph had to be sold to Egypt along with the extended suffering this entailed, but to have to suffer with the foul smelling spices was something God had no reason to include “in the package”. Divine providence had it that the first merchants Joseph’s brothers would find to sell their brother to, would have only pleasant spices.
Now here’s the question….
Joseph is thrown into a pit, and almost killed. Then he is sold to Egypt as a slave. And then he ends up in an Egyptian prison for over a decade (I doubt there was TV or internet in his cell, not to mention kosher food!). Let’s be blunt: Joseph’s life sucked. So why does it matter HOW Joseph got down to Egypt? In the big picture of things, a foul smelling buggy ride down to Egypt is a lot better than some of the other things Joseph had to endure! Why is God making a big deal out of the transportation arrangements and ensuring that a sweet-smelling train would come along? Why is this such a heavily discussed issue among all the commentators?
The answer is that Joseph himself realized that something special was happening when he was lifted onto the buggy. Joseph knew very well that it was virtually unheard of for Arab merchants to have a sweet-smelling caravan. As such Joseph became filled with hope and encouragement. He was able to see the “silver lining” in his very difficult situation. He was inspired, and he realized that considering the circumstances and his life experiences, God was certainly looking down upon him from above. As such, Joseph knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. These thoughts kept him going throughout his long ordeal.
And so it is with us. Not everything in life is smooth or easy. Life is not paradise. We all have our ups and downs. When we’re down, we have to have the “Joseph attitude” and look for the good even in the midst of the bad. To illustrate with an extreme example: When hurricane victims’ houses are destroyed or swept away, you’ll often hear something like, “At least we’re alive.” Yes, the small details matter.
We have to always find the silver lining in all our situations. We have to remember that just as a little light dispels much darkness, so too, a little good is a source for much God! And that’s one of the spices of life!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more articles by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click the links below.