We see a fascinating and at first glance disturbing pattern in Joseph’s life this week. He tells his brothers about multiple dreams where he is not only in a place of tremendous power and success, but where the brothers are in a place of subjugation. Could he not have left the latter part out?
We see this again when he is interpreting dreams for his fellow prison mates. He tells the cup-bearer of his salvation and return to previous post, which is great. He then interprets the bread baker’s dream and tells him not only of his death, but of the gruesome details of how he would be killed and humiliated in the process. Could he not have left this second part out?
This question really bothered me when I first read the Parshah. However, when I looked deeper and reflected more I also saw a very important lesson. Joseph is exercising his ability and gift to speak some very powerful truths. This is not always easy. What is true may be inconvenient, it may get in the way of what other people think is true, it may not be what we want, and it’s general human nature to try not to hurt other people’s feelings. At the same time, speaking truth is a very powerful skill. It’s a very powerful step. For if we never speak the simple truth of what is, if we always package it, for whatever reason, wise or foolish, than we are simply not fully living what “is”, in some sense we’re not fully alive.
I want to bring up two more episodes of truth in Joseph’s life. He resists the attempts of Pharaoh’s wife to seduce him, and acts in integrity to his values. According to a midrash this was indeed a challenging test. He later has a much more complicated encounter with truth as his brothers come to Egypt asking for food. He recognizes them and has to excuse himself to cry, as the memories of being abandoned and sold into slavery, along with the shock of seeing family again, are so intense. However, he is much older now, much more experienced, and dresses the truth of who he is in many layers. There is much debate on whether the details of his actions were honest of wise, but its not what I want to focus on right now. There is midrash which speaks of the tremendous power of putting his brothers in a situation where they would have to face the truth of their past actions (selling their lilttle brother to slavery) and feel remorse. Then, in a very similar situation, but older and wiser, they have the chance to act with integrity and responsibility by protecting their other younger brother. This is tremendous t’shuva.
Joseph too was now much older in this last episode. He had practiced the power of the simple blunt truth as a teenager, he held fast to his values as a young man in the palace, and he was now in a position to use, speak, and bring out truth in perhaps an even more powerful way.
I still have my concerns about his bluntness in the beginning, and the deceptive nature of his actions with the brothers in the end, but he was always calling out powerful powerful truths. Anything we want to build in this world, any area where we want to grow, anything we want to give… it all needs to come from truth, because it can only stand on truth.
I will bring this to a close by mentioning two Hebrew words I learned this week. The Hebrew word “oz”, which means strength or courage, can be connected to lehaiz (lamed, hey, ayin, yud, zain), which means to brave or to risk something. To tell the truth when it may hurt someone else, when it may be terrifying to us, is a risk that takes bravery and deep strength. At the same time, it gives back to us great strength, because truth is something we can stand firm on. It also offers back to us integrity and clarity, and builds trust in any relationship. However challenging, truth is something we can build on.
Joseph’s story reminds me of this, and is challenging me to think of where I do and don’t speak truth in my life, why and why not, when is it wise, and when is it not? Most importantly, how can I grow to speak truth with more wisdom? It also reminds me that the people I respect and admire most in my life are people who are humble and courageous enough to speak the truth any particular situation and of their personal lives. They do it, and they do it in a way that changes me.
May we all be blessed to be reminded of the power of speaking the truth, and of its gifts. May we all notice it more and more in ourselves, live from it, and support all those around us to tap into its potential.