For the week of January 10, 2009 / 14 Tevet 5769
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 47:28 - 50:26
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 2:1-12
Don't Count on Circumstances
When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on the head of Ephraim, it displeased him, and he took his father's hand to move it from Ephraim's head to Manasseh's head. And Joseph said to his father, "Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head." But his father refused and said, "I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great. Nevertheless, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his offspring shall become a multitude of nations." (Bereshit / Genesis 48:17-19; ESV)
Do you predict the future? I think most people do - not in the formal sense, but informally. As we face our lives day by day, most of us make plans based on how we think life will be in the near future. We look at weather reports to decide what to wear or to determine travel plans. We believe our heath condition will remain unchanged. We trust that our personal finances will be stable. We assume that if our job is secure today, it will be so tomorrow. We depend upon our relationships. On the basis of these predictions (unconscious as they may be), we plan our lives.
If we stopped to think about it, I am pretty sure that we are aware that nothing in life is for sure, but that doesn't stop us from our tendency to predict that the way things are is the way they will be.
In ancient Israel as in many ancient and modern cultures a person's place in life was determined by several factors, one of these being their birth order. First-born males were given special place. That was the way it was and there was nothing one could do about it. Even in cultures where such customs are not officially practiced, the circumstances into which a person is born still makes a huge difference in their lives. Other factors also influence the kinds of opportunities a person may have in life. While many people have been known to overcome life's limitations, most people most of the time seem to be controlled by their circumstances. The way things are is the way they will always be.
The incident reported in this week's Torah portion undermines this though. Near the end of Jacob's life, Jacob's son Joseph brought his own children to be blessed by their grandfather. Contrary to custom Jacob, in spite of Joseph's protests, gave the younger the greater blessing. This was not the first time this sort of thing occurred in the lives of the patriarchs. In fact, throughout the Bible, we encounter many unlikely people who are drawn into situations contrary to expected societal norms.
In the case of Jacob and his grandchildren, the unexpected turn of events was not by random chance, but by purposeful decision. This reflects the purposeful decisions of God himself as he affects people's personal lives.
This should challenge how we look at life. We cannot accurately predict our future based on analyzing circumstances. Moreover, the unpredictability of our future is not because of the influence of random chance. Rather, unexpected changes in circumstances are due to God's direct involvement in life, not because of good and bad luck.
We cannot count on circumstances - good or bad - continuing as is. Neither can we predict the unexpected changes of life we may suddenly face. The way things are is not necessarily what they will be. Rather than focusing on unreliable circumstances, let us trust God who is greater than our circumstances.
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