July 20, 2024
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Forgive Me for Hurting Me

Raised in the lap of his father Yaakov, with a whole world and future ahead of him, one day it all turns sour and so dark for Yosef. Yosef goes to check on the welfare of his brothers, but in no way are they checking on his welfare in the least. No, they have very different plans. They hold up Yosef, and are ready to end his life. Yosef is instead thrown in a pit heavily infested by venomous snakes and deadly scorpions, and although he miraculously survives, the brothers don’t seem to get the hint. Instead, with intense hatred and overwhelming anger toward Yosef, they viciously tear off his clothing, leaving him presumably naked, until they sell him to some Yishmaeilm on their way to who knows where. Yosef is sold from one group to another, until he finally lands in Egypt. He has a short run before once again being thrown in yet another pit, this time for 12 years straight. The brothers seemed to have caused a lot of unimaginable difficulty for Yosef. How does Yosef respond later on when the dust settles?

As we know, Yosef rises to the top, and many years later comes face to face with none other than his very own brothers. The tables have turned indeed, as the brothers are beyond stunned to be standing right before the brother they dealt with so severely, the brother they attempted to kill, to get rid of, never to be seen again. Naturally, anyone in Yosef’s position would feel a pull to get back at them, to show them who was right all along, to guilt trip them, or at least hold a grudge based on how he was treated. Yet, Yosef goes to the opposite extreme, welcoming them, comforting them, showing them much love. How is such a thing possible?

When a person desires to take revenge, it might come from a belief that the perpetrator was the ultimate cause of what occurred. While this is normal in the immediate aftermath of such an occurrence, one who excels in bitachon can perceive the past event(s) in a different light, and come to resolve difficult feelings. Indeed, Chovot Halevavot says that one who trusts in Hashem knows that no person or thing can help him in any way, but also that no person or thing can harm him whatsoever (Shaar Habitachon). Meaning, when a person helps you or hurts you, it only seems that way, when essentially it’s Hashem who decided you should receive assistance or the opposite. Thus, the person is only the one who decided to be Hashem’s messenger to carry that out.

Yosef personified the attribute of bitachon in Hashem. In fact, Tehillim (40:5) writes, “Praiseworthy is the person who relies on Hashem,” and the midrash (B”R 89:3) writes that this person is a reference to Yosef. We see in Yosef’s response to his brothers this aforementioned bitachon. He tells his embarrassed brothers, “It wasn’t you who sent me here to Egypt, but rather, it was Hashem” (45:8). You may have decided to cause me discomfort, but really it was ultimately Hashem who wanted me to be where I am now. “Hashem sent me here to sustain you” (45:5). I am not the one helping you, but rather, it’s ultimately Hashem Who sustains you and I was just put in the position to carry that out. Hence, Yosef welcoming and loving his brothers was just a normal behavior like how any brother would treat another brother. This bitachon can be one way to view one’s personal situation when hurt by another—being able to forgive the perpetrator, and also to resolve certain emotions that may have come up.

For one to view what occurred to him or her through this lens of bitachon is phenomenal. Yet, although one who is able to resolve his or her own feelings may feel relieved and victorious, however, to fully triumph can mean seeing to it that the perpetrator also resolves their feelings! Indeed, if the one who wronged you wants forgiveness and wants to reestablish the relationship, us—the one who was wronged—can take care to ensure the perpetrator comes away with a feeling of satisfaction and decreased guilt. Yosef didn’t just sit back and feel good that he had no negative feelings about what his brothers did to him, but rather, the Midrash (ibid 93:13) writes that Yosef even made efforts to appease his brothers. R’ Yerucham Levovitz understands from this that Yosef didn’t think he was off scot-free from all that happened, thinking it all was solely his brothers’ fault. Instead, Yosef introspected and thought that maybe he himself was a cause for his brothers to err. Yosef thought maybe he made a mistake and this caused the brothers to make a mistake.

Hence, Yosef appeased his brothers—seemingly attempting to help his brothers overcome potential guilty feelings and any other emotions that may have interfered with the brothers’ feeling complete with Yosef. As if Yosef is telling them, “Please forgive me for causing you to hurt me.”

Bitachon can be helpful when we still feel the hurt when someone wronged us, and it can also help overcome feelings of wanting to be in control (feeling that the perpetrator now “owes us”), as well as feeling controlled by the perpetrator. However, when time has passed and those emotions have been resolved, the perpetrator—now wanting to clear things up—may feel embarrassment, shame and guilt. Even telling him he did nothing wrong may not help at times. However, when we introspect, we may find that, in fact, we may have done at least something that may have contributed to the occurence. When we take some responsibility and “blame” for what occurred, this can help appease the perpetrator and, for us, it significantly reflects upon our own integrity and confidence.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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