A story is told of a man who was held captive in a small windowless room. Attached to one wall was a lever that could be turned. The prisoner occupied his time with turning the lever, thinking that it was activating something outside of the room.

Perhaps it was attached to an energy-generating windmill, water wheel or a pulley of some sort he imagined.

Days and months passed as the turning of the lever occupied the prisoner’s hours. Finally, the day of his release arrived. The prisoner emerged from his captivity to discover the startling truth—there was nothing outside his room. The lever on the wall was not connected to anything. All along, he had been toiling for no reason and for no purpose—for nothing!

More than everything else he had suffered and endured, this shattering realization was more than he could bear. His suffering had served no purpose. His actions had no effect and were, therefore, meaningless.

When a person finds meaning or purpose behind their suffering, it becomes easier to bear.

In a series of events that began in last week’s Torah portion, after a 22-year separation, Joseph’s brothers appear before him, unexpectedly. They’ve traveled to Egypt because of famine and are requesting provisions. The brothers are unaware of Joseph’s identity, but he recognizes them. He understands their language (Hebrew), but he communicates with them through an interpreter. Joseph devises a series of tests to ascertain whether or not they have changed their ways from when they heartlessly sold him into slavery. All the while, they think that he is an Egyptian leader and not their brother.

When Joseph feels certain of their penitence, he reveals his true identity. His brothers are in total shock! Even more amazing is that Joseph does everything possible not to make them feel guilt over their past misdeeds. He doesn’t mention a thing about the bitter years of enslavement and imprisonment he endured. How is such behavior possible?

As Joseph examined and re-examined the chain of events that had transpired that led him to become the second most powerful figure in all of Egypt, he no longer viewed his brothers as the culpable perpetrators. He could clearly see G‑d’s purpose and plan for him. He consoles his brothers by remarking, “[I]t was not you who sent me here, but G‑d.”1

Strikingly, Joseph not only models genuine forgiveness, but even greater than that, transcendence. Looking beyond himself to perceive a greater plan, he saw the unity between all the fragmented pieces of his life’s puzzle. By doing so, rather than remaining bitter and stuck in the past, Joseph was able to move on with equanimity.

To the extent that we harbor hatred, jealousy and insult over the past misdeeds of others against us, we are extending the initial pain that they caused us. Past afflictions are transported to the present moment, where their impact is compounded.

By expanding our vantage points to see beyond ourselves, we can come to view entire chains of events through a clear, and not clouded, lens. Joseph demonstrated this clarity of vision upon stating to his brothers: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of G‑d? You intended evil towards me, but G‑d intended it for good, to bring to pass what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”2

Every action, both positive and negative, exists within a certain context.

Often, the context we assign to experiences is really a projection of how we view ourselves. With reflection, we can come to see that there is more to be perceived outside of ourselves. We alone do not occupy the entire picture. We are part of a far larger trajectory.

Joseph came to fully understand this, and so can we. We are meant to say gam zu letovah (“also this is for the best”).3 Within every negative situation, there exists a concealed good. It’s hidden beneath the surface, being activated like a fertile seed implanted beneath the ground. In time, both will emerge, fully revealed. G‑d is the ultimate source and planter of seeds.

Use these insights to illuminate the dark places within your own life. Strive to view your challenges in life as opportunities through which to express the greater purpose that only you are meant to reveal.

Making It Relevant

1. Make concerted efforts to rid yourself of negative feelings towards people who have mistreated you. These feelings from the past are an ongoing burden and weight to bear. Resolve to eliminate them, as they no longer serve you.

2. Recognize that holding on to past hurts, only reactivates their painful effects.