The Baal Shem Tov instigated a grassroots revolution all across Europe, called Chassidism. At the center of the Chassidic philosophy, he placed the tenet of hashgachah pratit, divine providence, the belief that G‑d is really in charge, managing every detail of our lives. He had many opponents who challenged him. Perhaps they were frightened that this belief would cause people to shirk responsibility and become passive. But the Baal Shem Tov taught that a true understanding of hashgachah pratit breeds proactivity, not passivity.

How’s that? An examination of the biblical account of Joseph’s narrative can shed light on the matter.

The In his mind, it was G‑d, and only G‑d, directing his destinyTorah’s description of Joseph leaves no doubt that he was a man with an absolute commitment to his belief in divine providence. When Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, he helped them heal from their paralyzing guilt by sharing with them his take on being sold:

“But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G‑d sent me before you. For already two years of famine [have passed] in the midst of the land, and [for] another five years there will be neither plowing nor harvest. So G‑d sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance.”1

True, his brothers had taken him, a precocious son in Jacob’s illustrious family, and converted him into a piece of meat to be auctioned off in a marketplace. But he wasn’t angry with them because he didn’t consider them responsible for his humiliation. In his mind, it was G‑d, and only G‑d, directing his destiny.

Joseph’s time in Egypt went from bad to worse. Initially, he was sold to Potiphar, an Egyptian dignitary, where he was quite successful—but then he was arrested. His alleged crime was fabricated by Potiphar’s wife as revenge for Joseph’s rejecting her seductive advances. Joseph was forced to sit in prison for years.

All the while, Joseph remained true to his belief that G‑d was steering the course of his life, and that there was meaning behind all the chaos.

And then, one day, Joseph noticed that two of his fellow inmates were downcast. Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker had been imprisoned for culinary misdemeanors. Their pain concerned Joseph and he approached them. “Why do your faces look so down today?”

“We’ve had a dream,” they responded, “but there is no one to interpret it.”2

Joseph accurately interpreted their dreams. Two years later, the chief butler recommended Joseph to Pharaoh when he, too, had some disconcerting dreams. Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams; the rest is history. He became Pharaoh’s viceroy, and saved Egypt and his entire family from starvation during the famine.

But let’s go back to his original question, which spawned the whole sequence of events that followed: “Why do your faces look so down today?”

If Joseph would have felt helpless and irate—the way almost anyone in his position would have felt—he would have been incapable of responding to anyone’s pain but his own. Angry people don’t notice other people who are hurting. And why would Joseph have reached out to employees of a government that had wrongfully imprisoned him?

But But Joseph wasn’t angry—not at the government, not at Potiphar’s wife and not at his brothersJoseph wasn’t angry—not at the government, not at Potiphar’s wife and not at his brothers. And as such, he retained his serenity even in jail.

And so, Joseph was in tune with another person’s pain, and was therefore capable of doing that one small act of goodness and kindness. Little did he know that it would change the world.

The conviction that G‑d is right here, directing all that happens, is like a spiritual chiropractic adjustment—shifting our focus from frustration to curiosity. The instinctive response—“This is wrong; it shouldn’t have happened to me!!”—becomes: “This is an opportunity—why else would it happen to me?”

Our job is to look for opportunities to make a difference. And sometimes a small window of opportunity brings in a whole new world of fresh air.

This reminds me of the Rebbe’s response to a CNN reporter who stood on the famous “dollar lines” that formed every Sunday outside of Lubavitch World Headquarters. When his turn came and he stood before the Rebbe, he asked: “What is your message to the world?”

The Rebbe replied: “Moshiach is ready to come now. We all must only do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness.”3