This week's parsha
The Challenge of the Rich
A rich man is nothing but a poor man with money.
Joseph wasn’t just rich, he was fabulously wealthy. Viceroy of Egypt, chief financier of Pharaoh, placed in charge of taxation and sanctioned by law to take a cut off the top on every financial transaction, he could easily have been forgiven for indulging in the temptation to let his bankroll control his brainwaves.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, can you imagine the temptations implicit in being simultaneously invested with wealth, might and brains? What couldn’t he do -- and, more ominously, what could possibly stop him from doing so?
That Joseph managed to overcome these moral challenges is admirable; that he managed to utilize his talents for the common good is commendable; that he managed to triumph over the injustices that he had personally suffered and still approach the world with integrity is remarkable.Joseph had suffered horribly. Kidnapped as a youth and sold into slavery, he had been left decaying in a dungeon for years, the victim of false accusations. No one would have been surprised had these assaults on his person and spirit left Joseph with a twisted personality, determined to take his every revenge on a cruel world.
Joseph’s ability to disregard these insults to self, and to set about saving the world from famine, is commemorated to this day. The Jewish people as a whole are compared to Joseph, and we are enjoined to emulate him, the “great provider” (Psalms 80:2).
Joseph was known as the great provider not only for the humanitarian aid he extended to the impoverished, but also because of the spiritual legacy he left behind, standing in good stead for us, his spiritual heirs. We can speculate that the personality traits that helped Joseph live through the hard times, maintaining his faith while impoverished and in pain, were the very qualities that allowed him to maintain a true perspective even when the hand dealt to him in the great card game of life changed for the better.
If I pray to G‑d during the times of sorrow, said Joseph, trusting that this too is a stage in the divine plan, shouldn’t I draw on those reservoirs of faith and be there for others when my circumstances change for the better?
Without Joseph’s example, most of us would at best hope to maintain a muddled equilibrium on our journey. Play it safe. Don’t stick your head up too high, in fear of getting it blown off. Live life small. True, the highs are not so stupendous, but neither will the troughs be too intimidating.
It takes a Joseph to demonstrate the strength of character we must aspire to, to live a life of faith, nobility and courage, even in times of hardship and poverty, and to keep the faith even when the good times are rolling.