G-d's University May Include a Course in Prison
In this Torah portion, the key player is Joseph. As we saw with Jacob, Joseph is not Mr. Perfection either. We see a tattletale (Genesis 37:2); we see also gross insensitivity—"G-d showed me that in the future, all of you will bow down to me," (37:5-8). This is what he tells them after tattling on them.
If we fast-forward for a moment, to the end of Joseph's life, we see a very rosy picture indeed—G-d vindicates Joseph and shows that those dreams did in fact come from Him; Joseph becomes elevated to the #2 position in all Egypt and acts as a savior of his people and of the Egyptians. This is a very popular scenario among believers—G-d showers His blessings upon us as we obey Him. What we forget is that between the dreams of the teenager Joseph and their fulfillment, there were some very long years.
These middle chapters in Joseph's life don't play very well to the audience of believers today. Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt—a humiliating and traumatic experience for a sheltered, spoiled youth. Then, we start to relax—Potiphar notices that his life improves a lot because of Joseph, so he elevates Joseph to serve as his chief of staff. Things are beginning to turn around. Then, a major test of Joseph's moral fiber comes—will he allow himself to be seduced by Potiphar's wife? Joseph passes that test with flying colors. His reward? Thirteen years of prison! Then, our hopes start to rise again—Joseph interprets a dream for an official in Pharaoh’s court who promises to put in a good word for him. The official returns to the court, but forgets about Joseph.
Put yourself in Joseph's shoes—here he is in a cold, dark dungeon. Twelve years have passed since he was accused of attempted rape by Potiphar's wife and incarcerated. Does he become bitter and disillusioned with G-d? No—the writer of Hebrews describes Joseph as a man of faith (Hebrews 11:22,13). Why did G-d allow Joseph to go through all this grief? The most likely reason is that the L-rd needed to take this youth and prepare him for the important position in Egypt. Joseph had to become tempered and matured. He had to learn to trust G-d through the tough course on patience in prison.
What about us today—what is the L-rd doing with us now? Whether on top of the world, or in a dungeon, let us learn to follow the L-rd like Joseph did. We need to trust Him and allow Him to prepare us for whatever He has for us. If we learn to follow Him through lean times, we'll be better prepared to follow Him in rich times.