D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving
It is not unusual for most of us to feel guilty at various times over the course of our life. Those feelings of guilt can surface because of something we did or we think we did; for failing to do something we should have done; or for thoughts we have and believe to be morally wrong. But, while guilt may make us feel uncomfortable, it can also motivate us to apologize or fix a mistake we made.
In last week’s Torah portion Vayeshev, Joseph ends up in prison. While there he correctly interprets the dreams of both the king’s cupbearer and baker. Based on his interpretations, the baker is executed but the cupbearer is released from prison and restored to his previous position.
At the beginning of this week’s portion Miketz, Pharaoh has a series of dreams which his wise men and magicians are unable to interpret. The cupbearer recommends Joseph for the job. When Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dreams, he is appointed Viceroy of Egypt.
In interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph correctly predicts seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. During the years of abundance Joseph makes sure enough grain is stored to get through the lean years. When the famine sets in, people from all over the world come to see Joseph כִּֽי־חָזַ֥ק הָֽרָעָ֖ב בְּכָל־הָאָֽרֶץ, because the famine had become severe throughout the world (Gen. 41:57).
One day all of Joseph’s brothers except Benjamin, show up looking for food. When they come before him to make their case, the brothers do not recognize Joseph. But, Joseph recognizes them and quickly puts his brothers to the test. He accuses them of being spies and orders them to leave one brother in Egypt, return home to their father and bring back their youngest brother Benjamin. Bemoaning their predicament, the brothers deem this to be payback for the harm they did to Joseph and their father so long ago.
All these years Joseph’s brothers have been living not only with the guilt of what they did to their brother but also with the guilt of lying to their father about Joseph’s fate. Now, as they speak these feelings of guilt out loud, it appears the brothers regret their actions. This sense of remorse and despair they are feeling lingers into next week’s portion, as Joseph continues to test his brothers forcing them to sweat it out. After all, guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.