A key theme in this week’s Torah parasha, Vayechi, is forgiveness. We all know the famous Joseph story – of his brothers selling him into slavery and lo and behold, Joseph becomes a key leader among the Egyptians. When their father Jacob dies, the brothers are asking for forgiveness from Joseph. “Please, forgive now your brothers’ transgression and their sin, for they did evil to you. Now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
And Joseph’s reaction to this plea was to weep. And he said “Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive. So now do not fear. I will sustain you and your small children.” וְעַתָּה אַל תִּירָאוּ אָנֹכִי אֲכַלְכֵּל אֶתְכֶם וְאֶת טַפְּכֶם
So, why was he able to forgive his brothers after betraying him? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees Joseph’s relationships with his brothers as the full cycle of repentance. The first stage of repentance is when they admit they did wrong (when the brothers first encountered Joseph in Egypt). The second stage of repentance is when they confess and take responsibility for their actions (when they confess to having sold Joseph into slavery). And the third is when they are presented with the same situation as the first time and they choose not to make the same mistake again (they offer to be Joseph’s slaves). The three phases of repentance presented here are 1) admission of guilt, 2) confession and 3) behavioral change.
The story of Joseph is a beautiful representation of humanity and our ability and obligation to forgive our fellow man and woman. For when we forgive one another, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks notes that we are “no longer prisoners of our past“ but are able to find new purpose and meaning in our relationships with one another. As the new secular year has become, I wish you a year filled with opportunities to model this lesson of repentance and accept forgiveness into your hearts.