Joseph was sold as a slave. His employer’s wife tried to seduce him, but he withstood her advances. His reward for doing so? He was thrown into the deepest darkest prison in existence — the Devil’s Island of his time. Finally, a chink of light appeared — Pharaoh’s butler had promised to bring Joseph’s case before Pharaoh. But two more years had passed and nothing had changed. If there was ever a time for a man to despair, this surely was it. All of his life he had dedicated himself to being a good and decent man — and what had he received for his efforts? Hatred, slavery, vengeance and ingratitude.
The Sages tell us that “God’s redemption can arrive in the blinking of an eye.” And so with Joseph, God decided the time had come and the wheels turned fast. Pharaoh dreamed; no one could interpret; Pharaoh’s butler remembered a Hebrew slave; Joseph was summoned; the dreams were interpreted; Joseph was the obvious man to take charge; Joseph was given power second only to Pharaoh. Dressed in kingly robes, he paraded through Egypt and wherever he went massive crowds turned out to greet him. The Rabbis say his beauty was so great that women would climb on the roofs of houses for a better view.
Joseph went from the lowliest and most despised of all men, to the most powerful and influential person in the entire world… in a matter of hours. Moments before he was summoned, he could not imagine ever leaving prison. A few hours later, he was in control of all of Egypt.
Despair is not a Jewish concept — because things can always be different. Situations often look hopeless, we see no way out — but circumstances can change — and often that change is instantaneous. Jews, more than anyone, should know this. During two thousand year of exile and suffering, we have been through many times when we could have easily despaired. But we have always hoped and dreamed of better times ahead; always known that as bad as things might be, redemption may be right around the corner. And often it has been.
It would have been easy to give up against the Greeks, easy to despair. But the Maccabees chose to hope instead. And because of the choices of a small band of people, the Jewish people survives today.
We may live at a time of great challenge to Jewish continuity. But redemption is just around the corner — if we care enough to choose for it to be.