We are at our best only when we face lifes difficulties

Vayeshev

Genesis 37:1-40:23
Numbers 7:1-17
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

To really understand the life of Joseph as it unfolds in this week’s Torah portion, one must analyze it in the light of certain fundamental ideas. King David in Psalm 94:12 espouses a difficult concept: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord.”

One can perhaps distinguish between the sincerely religious person and the superficial one by observing his behavior at times of misfortune.

It is easy enough for us to speak of G-d’s goodness when we are happy and content. It is very much more difficult to retain our faith in his goodness when we are enduring affliction and suffering.

Still, this may be the supreme test of religion.

The saintly Job, when robbed of his possessions and bereft of his children, when he was enduring disaster after disaster, expressed the famous declaration, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the 13th chapter of the Book of Job he says in submissive devotion, “Though G-d slay me, still will I trust Him.”

In the light of such faith we can understand the Psalmist as practically envying the man whom “G-d has chastened,” and to whom G-d brought suffering.

We usually associate happiness with something pleasant, not with misfortune or pain. The Torah, however, connects the two because it looks beyond the pain of the moment to the consequences in the future.

The chastening of G-d may hurt while we have to bear it, but we believe that in the grand scheme of things it will be ultimately beneficial.

Adversity is a discipline, and discipline is an excellent thing for all of us. The true believer cannot resent tribulations when his mind is filled with such thoughts.

He has the knowledge that G-d is subjecting him to discipline for the fulfillment of His Divine purpose. This knowledge induces him to put forth the best that is in him, no matter how great the suffering.

It would be safe to say that had Joseph’s life run a smooth course, he would certainly not have achieved as much as he did under the burden of hardships.

Although Joseph’s famous dreams foretold a future of exalted position for him, at the age of 17 he was instead a slave doing the work of the lowliest of men. Because he believed that his fate was controlled from on high, he never lost faith.

He was sure that G-d was shaping him for His own ends.

Then he who was destined to command the respect of men was placed in prison on a trumped-up charge with the dregs of society.

If he ever suspected that G-d who had inspired his dreams had abandoned him, the suspicion didn’t last long. He was confident that G-d intended everything for the best.

G-d could certainly have created a world, had He so desired, free from difficulties, suffering and hardship. He knew, however, that in such a world man would never aspire to higher things.

We are at our best when we must exert all of our powers in struggling against the tide. King David writes in Psalm 119:71, “It was good for me that I was afflicted in order that I might learn your statutes.”

It would seem that our ears are quicker to catch G-d’s message when we are not dulled by the pleasure of physical satisfaction. The tests we are given, if properly interpreted, are meant to develop us in a manner whereby we make the very best of our capabilities.

In good fortune or ill fortune, in happiness or sorrow, we must accept that G-d is directing our course to an end that He knows is best for us. We can then endorse the words of the Psalm: “Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord.”

Shabbat shalom and happy Chanukah.

Rabbi Pinchas Lipner is dean of Hebrew Academy in San Francisco.