Our Fears: Are They Valid?

          When Joseph’s 10 eldest brothers descend to Egypt to secure food during the famine, Joseph (in disguise as Pharaoh’s vizier) immediately accuses them of being spies. They offer information that they have a younger brother in Canaan to which Joseph said he would put them to the test: they must bring back their youngest brother. At this point the brothers said to one another “Alas, we are being punished on account of our brother, because we looked on at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us. That is why distress has come to us.”[1]

          There is a rabbinic principle of מדה כנגד מדה, measure for measure. When you sin, you will be punished in a similar manner. It makes sense that Joseph’s brothers would feel they are being punished now for what they had done in the past. Yet I must ask is this a helpful way of thinking? When things don’t go our way is it better to analyze what we did wrong or to learn from it and move on as best we can? I would argue the latter is the healthier approach.

          When our conscience tugs at us, as it did here for Joseph’s brothers, there is a lesson to be learned from it. However, to overanalyze and beat ourselves up over it is counterproductive. The past is the past; what we can and must do now is work towards building a better future. When we feel off course, lost or estranged, we need to remember that there is always a place for us, an area where we can thrive. Let us also recognize that our fears, while real too us, are often overstated. Even after Joseph reveals himself to the brothers, he says “Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.”[2] May we have faith that we are currently exactly where we are meant to be in life and that God will lead us in the direction we are to go.


[1] Genesis 42:21

[2] Genesis 45:5

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