“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” — Genesis 45:5
The Hebrew month of Elul, which means “search,” is a time of intense soul-searching and repentance in preparation for the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Elul is also a time to begin the process of asking for forgiveness for wrongs done to others. This is one of 13 devotions on repentance and forgiveness. To learn more about the shofar, which is blown every weekday during Elul¸ download our complimentary Bible study.
Our verse today comes from one of the most emotionally charged sections in the Hebrew Bible. The story of Joseph and his brothers reaches a crescendo in Genesis Chapter 45 as the brothers discovered themselves completely at the mercy of the Egyptian ruler who, unbeknownst to them, was really their brother Joseph.
As the brothers pled for the life of Benjamin, who had been set up to look like a thief, they explained that to lose Benjamin would be a death sentence for their father. These were the very same brothers who were so quick to get rid of Joseph, regardless of what it would do to him or their father. Old feelings came to the forefront for Joseph and his brothers as they were painfully reminded of a past that still haunted them all.
The Bible depicts the drama: “Joseph could no longer control himself . . . And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him . . .” (Genesis 45: 1–2). Then, Joseph revealed himself saying, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” (Genesis 45:3). In other words, Joseph was basically saying: Where were your concerns for our father’s wellbeing when you got rid of me? Where was your concern for me?
The brothers realized in one terrifying moment that Joseph had been right and they had been wrong. Joseph had been correct in predicting that he would rule over his brothers one day – it wasn’t a sinister plot. He hadn’t deserved what they did to him. The brothers also realized that they were in a serious predicament. They had wronged the second most powerful ruler of Egypt. Joseph’s brothers “were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence” (Genesis 45:3).
Next comes one of the most important moments in human history. It is another “first” for mankind — forgiveness. This is the first recorded incident of forgiveness. It is the first time we see one human forgive another. We read of Joseph’s great mercy for his brothers when he says, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (v. 5). We see it exhibited when Joseph “threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them” (v. 14).
It’s not for the sake of dramatic entertainment that the Bible goes to such lengths to portray the deep emotions and great hurt present at the moment of forgiveness.
The Bible is teaching us, and Joseph modeled for us, that forgiveness is something that we should all strive toward. No matter how hurt we might be, when someone is truly remorseful, we must find it in our hearts to let go of the past and forgive.
Just about all of us have been hurt at one point or another by someone else. It’s easy to fall into bitterness and resentment for the rest of our lives. But as difficult as it is, let’s follow Joseph’s lead and be strong enough to forgive. As the poet Alexander Pope said: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
Be divine and forgive.
Yael Eckstein is president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.