"The master of the land spoke with us harshly!" Joseph's brothers wailed to Jacob.

Severe famine engulfed the Middle East, and nations streamed to Egypt, the sole supplier of grain. Among millions of visitors, how many individuals were favored with a personal audience in the private palace of the world's most powerful man? And here the brothers were complaining about their privilege!

They had good reason to wail: the character holding Egypt's most influential office had arrested them, accusing them of spying on his superpower.

Yet, this same harsh and paranoid ruler trusted the unmasked "spies" to make their way back to Canaan unsupervised. He took a single member of the ten-man team hostage, relying on the verbal assurance of the rest that they would return in due course with proof of their innocence.

Everything about the brothers' encounter with Egyptian Joseph was contradictory and counterintuitive, and the trend grew more bizarre with each subsequent meeting. The brothers became bewildered and insecure.

Joseph, however, had a plan, based on his divine dreams of many years previous.

He would treat his brothers with extreme harshness as a way of cleansing them of their sin of having sold their own brother into slavery. He would challenge them to withstand the test of repeating their mistake with Benjamin, at the expense of destroying their own lives.

At the same time, Joseph planted a series of benevolent markers that would enable his brothers to recognize him as their brother Joseph when the time came. At just the right moment, he would reveal his identity, and all those gestures of endearment, concern, and highly unusual attention amid the turbulence of their harsh trial would suddenly make sense.

Joseph's severity was simply a cover, a necessary but half-hearted tool, while his kindnesses were covert signals of what was really in store for them. In truth, his tools of injustice and calamity were also kindnesses, albeit unfathomable and bitter at the time.

By paying closer attention, perhaps the brothers could have figured out the truth on their own, allowing Joseph to end their ordeal all the sooner. Then again, it is extremely difficult to see objectively with a vision confused by despair.

A Veneer Dissolved

Our media reels off strings of heartrending tragedies; our personal lives abound with challenge. For each individual, Heaven has prepared a series of personalized trials. At times, we may throw our hands heavenwards and wail, "The Master of the Land dealt with us harshly!" And we may be quite right.

At the same time, there are often well-placed points of light that betray the benevolent identity of the Master of the Land. These signs may not be readily apparent without contemplation, but they certainly exist. Joseph's brothers, in the midst of their travails, were unaware of the excellent ending of their saga; we, however, review their journey in its entirety to recognize the same pattern in our own lives. Just as each person's ordeals are tailor-made, his or her markers are similarly personalized.

Sudden rays of comfort appear remarkable amid severe loss.

Overtones of salvation infiltrate scenes of destruction.

Inexplicable tragedy coincides with unexpected support.

A helping hand stretches forth mysteriously from the void.

Surprising strength is born when continuation seems impossible.

Recognizing these markers brings the realization that our ordeals have their source in a supernal love of a sublime nature, incomprehensible to mortals only due to its intense sublimity. Somehow, our suffering must be for our betterment. Eventually, we will fully appreciate it.

Does this awareness remove current pain, undo what has already occurred, or heal the unfixable? In some cases, it may; in most, it cannot. It may alleviate the pain to a degree or facilitate the discovery of a remedy or respite. However, seeking Brother Joseph in our own challenges certainly brings illumination and perhaps even some measure of comfort. More importantly, when combined with deep faith, this attitude must surely make redundant an extended ordeal, allowing the moment when all will be revealed as good to come all the sooner.

Back in sweltering Egypt, mighty Joseph struggled to keep his composure as his brothers' distress filled his lavish court. He longed to reconcile. He struggled to keep his guise as long as it was necessary for his brothers' benefit – but not a moment longer.

The Master of the Land is also our Merciful Father, a fact we have proclaimed for generations despite the harshness of our history. It is a belief to which we have clung steadfastly. Our souls have broadcast a truth that at times, our minds could not fully explain. For our bond is unbreakable, and we actively seek our Father.

Reconsider the details of your own ordeals, and contrast them with the overall scene. Can you find a series of markers, G‑d's autograph, even in His rod? Observe the markers, smile at Him, and tell Him that you have seen through His guise.