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Hold Back on the Anger; You'll Be Better for It
It's happened to practically all of us: Some days, it seems as if nothing is going your way.
For most people, the natural response is to get angry. The Torah, however, teaches that anger is better left by the wayside.
If anybody had a right to hold a grudge, it was Joseph. In a short span of time, he goes from occupying the highest place of honor in his father's house to the lowest dredges of servitude; and it's his own brothers, of all people, who sell him into slavery.
But then, he's able to ascend to the top of the Egyptian social order. When his brothers, unaware of Joseph's true identity, finally come to him begging for food, he reveals himself and far from punishing them, tells them that all is okay. He even invites them to settle in Egypt with their father Jacob.
This week's portion opens after the reunion. Jacob is dying, and he gathers everyone together to bless them. After he passes on, the family buries him in the land of Canaan, and returns to their adopted homes in the Egyptian-controlled land of Goshen.
It's here that the brothers get worried. They figure that Joseph has merely been biding his time -- not unlike their uncle Esau -- and waiting for just the right moment to unleash his revenge. With his father gone, Joseph has the perfect opportunity to settle his score with his own blood relatives who once cast him into a pit.
They make a personal appeal to Joseph, going so far as to concoct a story about Jacob pleading from his deathbed for family unity, and then even offer themselves up as slaves.
Once again, Joseph states that not only is all forgiven, but that there's nothing to forgive. "Am I a substitute for God," he asks. "Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good. Fear not. ... I will sustain you and your children."
Herein lays the key to repressing anger. The Talmud compares anger to idolatry, and Chasidic thought goes even further by equating anger with false worship.
According to the American Psychological Association, anger is "characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong." In essence, it is deliberately ascribing power to an existence outside of the Almighty.
If you acknowledge, however, like Joseph, that everything owes its existence to the Divine, then you have no reason to be angry.
Joseph, though, also realized that everything happens for a reason. It was this acknowledgement of Divine Providence that allowed his father Jacob -- as the title of this week's portion, Vayehi, means -- to "live" in Egypt.
The Baal HaTurim commentary teaches that Jacob didn't just live there, he spent the best years of his life in Egypt. The obvious question is how could Jacob, who yearned for the fulfillment of the promise that his descendants would dwell in the Holy Land, dwell so peacefully outside of it?
The answer can be seen in Jacob's dispatching his fourth son, Judah, to establish yeshivas in Egypt in advance of his arrival. Jacob knew that the ultimate purpose in his children's exile there -- a prototype of the Jewish people's present exile -- was to spread holiness to the darkest corner of the earth.
That belief not only sustained them, but also enabled Jacob's descendants to experience a mighty redemption, and eventually inherit the land of their forefathers.
Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at: [email protected].