Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Dealing with grudges

Vayechi

One of the emotions that can cause anxiety and depression is anger because of offenses or aggression received from others, holding a grudge and fanning the flames of the desire for revenge.

The one who suffers most is the grudge bearer himself. Bearing a grudge is like drinking a glass of poison and waiting for the other person to die.

How do you get rid of the chains of resentment and revenge?

In this week’s reading, Vayechi [1], we read about a recipe for relief.

Joseph had every reason to be angry with his brothers and to desire to take revenge on them when the opportunity presented itself. And it was not for nothing: they hated him since he was a child, they wanted to kill him, they ended up selling him as a slave, he suffered loneliness and a lot of hardships and now, as viceroy of Egypt, he had the perfect opportunity to take revenge on them. If there was any hesitance —not wanting to cause his father anguish— after his father’s death, he now had a free hand. In fact, Joseph’s brothers feared precisely that, that the time had come to “pay the bill” and they humbly approached Joseph in order to “negotiate” with him the terms of their future relationship [2].

Joseph had a totally different view on the matter: “Be not afraid,” said Joseph. “You thought to do me wrong, but G-d thought for good… so that he could bring salvation to multitudes…”[3] It’s not that Joseph magnanimously forgave his brothers; it’s that he directly dismissed their behavior as irrelevant. What had happened to him was because G-d had designed it so in order to be able to fulfill an important mission. Their decisions were nothing more than circumstantial instruments through which G-d’s designs were carried out.

We see another facet of this attitude that Joseph had during his stay in prison as the result of the false accusations of his master’s wife. The Torah [4] tells us how two of Pharaoh’s ministers were condemned to the prison where Joseph was incarcerated and had dreams the same night. In the morning they had very long faces. Joseph asks them “why do you have a long face today?” They tell him their dreams and he interprets them for them. As a direct result of this episode, years later he ends up getting out of prison in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, as a consequence of which he is appointed viceroy of Egypt.

We see here the incalculable power of three simple words: “How are you?” It’s not only because this question ended up being a crucial link in Joseph’s eventual release, but because it shows us that even though, at first glance, Joseph could not do anything very “important” while incarcerated in an Egyptian jail, he did the maximum of what he could at that moment: help his neighbor even with a simple “How are you? Why that face?”.

Joseph, exiled from his family and unjustly deprived of his freedom, did not waste time feeling sorry for himself as a poor victim, but looked for opportunities to make the world better and brighter for someone.

This, then, is a tool from this week’s reading: Everything that happens to us in life comes from G-d and is for our benefit, even though we may not always understand it that way. The challenge is to look for the positive potential within every situation that we live in. The “messengers” are totally irrelevant.

  1. Genesis 37:1 – 40:23
  2. Ibid, 50:15 -18
  3. Ibid, 50:19 – 21
  4. Ibid, 40:6
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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