(from Bereishith/Genesis 45)
4. And Joseph said unto his brethren…”I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me…for God did send me before you to preserve life…
8. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God…”
I’m always deeply moved by this reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. They had treated him miserably and lied to their father (a lie that they maintained for decades), causing him agonizing grief, to cover what they’d done. Yet, in the end, Joseph not only forgives them, he invites them to, and sustains them in, Goshen.
The few short words he speaks to them here, at the moment he reveals his true identity to them, demonstrate three major aspects of the practice of forgiving:
First — Joseph credits God with everything, including the harmful things that his brothers did to him!
How long must it have taken for Joseph to not only reach this point, but to have it so deeply imbedded in his heart that there was no lingering blame or resentment? This is hundreds of years before the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, but the fundamental faith that Avraham — Joseph’s grandfather — taught is shining through here: There is one God in charge of everything that happens.
I can easily imagine Joseph being carried down to Egypt, and especially during his time in prison, wondering why all this was happening to him.
Isn’t that how we react to our “misfortunes,” or to the “accidents” that happen to us? We plaintively ask, “Why me?” “What did I do to deserve this?”
Of course, many people don’t believe in God. Or, if they do, they might not believe in God as an active cause of the events in their lives. I don’t address that here, other than to say: G-d’s active involvement in our lives is what we’re affirming when we say the “Shema.” Christians and Muslims have their own affirmations, but the cognitive content is the same. One God; One Cause of all events.
This seems to have been a life-long conviction of Joseph’s.
Second — Joseph credits all that God does as being “for the good.”
Rebbe Nachman of Breslav says that one who can say this sincerely has had a glimpse of the world-to-come — i.e. of a world filled with God’s Presence.
Joseph directs his view to the good that has come out of the things that happened to him.
I’d imagine that this view was something that he developed gradually — as do we all. Especially during his time in prison, he had to have given deep and prolonged thought to put everything that was happening into the context of his faith and conviction of God’s Presence and Goodness.
Third — Joseph changed his view of those who acted against him.
In seeing only Divine goodness, Joseph is able to forgive his brothers by “reframing” his view of them. He changes the way he thinks of them. They are no longer his oppressors; no longer those who bitterly hated him. Instead, they were agents of God for an ultimate good.
Even one who does not believe in God, or does not believe that God is in all events, can effect forgiveness by “reframing” or “redefining” his/her view of those who have been the apparent sources of harm. We can begin here simply by saying that the person caused us harm through imperfections in their own view of things or limits in their own ability to effectively express what is really bothering them.