Judge My Actions, Not My Plans

December 18, 2015 at 11:33 AM , , ,

“…And Yosef sustained his father and his brothers and his father’s entire household [with] bread according to the young children. – Bereishis 47:12

וַיְכַלְכֵּל יוֹסֵף אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אֶחָיו וְאֵת כָּל בֵּית אָבִיו לֶחֶם לְפִי הַטָּף – בראשית מז, יב

The Book of Tehillim (80:2) calls G-d “the shepherd of Israel… He who leads Yosef like flocks of sheep.”

The Midrash interprets this verse (non-literally) as the Jewish people’s supplication before G-d that He lead us like flocks of sheep, “just as Yosef did.” Specifically, says the Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 80), “Just as Yosef sustained each person according to his deeds, as it is written, ‘And Yosef sustained his father…,’ [we ask that] we too should be sustained according to our deeds.”

This Midrashic teaching is puzzling. Is it necessary to draw an analogy from Yosef—or anyone else, for that matter—to request that G-d treat us in accordance with our deeds? Would such treatment not be the most fair and reasonable thing to expect from G-d? In fact, the greatness of Yosef was that he did not treat people only according to their deeds; rather, he sustained his brothers and their families despite what they had done to him! Why then does the Midrash regard Yosef as the paragon of “sustaining each person according to his deeds,” and why must we make a special request that G-d treat us in a similar manner?


This enigmatic teaching of the Midrash, however, gives us an entirely different perspective on Yosef’s benevolence toward his brothers. The Midrash is highlighting that Yosef did actually treat his brothers “according to their deeds”—notwithstanding what their intentions had been. For as Yosef told his brothers, “Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] G-d designed it for good, in order to bring about, what is today, to keep a great populace alive” (Bereishis 50:20). Therefore, disregarding his brothers’ terrible intentions in selling him, Yosef focused only on the great outcome of their deeds (by Divine plan), and rewarded them accordingly.

This then is also the meaning of our prayer, according to the Midrash, that G-d sustain us “according to our deeds.” We are requesting that in instances where our good deeds were without feeling, or were perhaps even motivated by the wrong intentions, may G-d ignore our motives, as Yosef did. May He consider only our deeds, and benevolently reward us accordingly.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 5, pp. 242-247


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