I have a few pet peeves, but lately the one that keeps resurfacing is when someone tells me, in the midst of what feels like a personal crisis, that I should “see the bigger picture.” This is supposed to be comforting, reminding me that despite whatever is happening now, I shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in the end it will work out. But in that moment, seeing the big picture can be so difficult when it’s happening to you. Someone looking at a situation with fresh eyes is sometimes easily able to put the situation in perspective, but objectivity can seem impossible when the situation is yours.
Nevertheless, seeing the big picture is often necessary in order to move forward in a challenging situation. In my final year of rabbinical school, I had a major Talmud exam. I was not thrilled with the stress and aggravation that came with studying for this comprehensive exam, which, based on my score, would determine whether or not I would be ordained. But it turns out, all of those people who told me to see the bigger picture of mastering Talmud and being ordained were actually on to something. A small amount of pain in the moment can lead to great rewards down the road. The challenge is figuring out how to see the bigger picture.
Joseph, the hated brother, had plenty of reasons to be angry and vengeful with his brothers, but, as we read this week in parshat Vayigash, he is anything but upset. In our parshah this week, Joseph reintroduces himself to his brothers. He may have toyed with them when he first realized who they were out of a bit of revenge, but in this moment of meeting, he seems to be the one to add perspective. The revelation goes like this:
“I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God;…”
Three times Joseph reminds his brothers that it is God who sent him here to Egypt, not them. In reading this text, it appears that the minute Joseph introduces himself, the brothers turn to a state of panic as the next words Joseph speaks are words of comfort to them. Joseph saw the bigger picture of his brothers’ actions and was able to put it behind him in order to find the greater good. Instead of accusing his brothers of having sold him, Joseph says they “sent” him, understanding the true significance of his life, and giving his brothers the benefit of the doubt.
As I read this parshah, I am awed by Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers and see the big picture. Joseph shows faith in God in understanding his ultimate purpose in life, and in this clarity he has gained, he is able to live by letting go of his anger against his brothers. Joseph teaches us that seeing the big picture can be done from the inside, as long as we know we have a greater purpose to achieve.
As we enter into the new secular year, may each of us be able to expand our view to see the bigger picture, to give the benefit of the doubt, and let ourselves aspire to and achieve greatness.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: As 2012 comes to a close, what does the bigger picture of the year look like? Did you give people a second chance?