…A man came upon him [Joseph] wandering in the fields. The man asked him, “What are you looking for?”
He answered, “I am looking for my brothers. Could you tell me where they are pasturing?”
The man said, “They have gone from here, for I heard them say: Let us go to Dothan.”
So Joseph followed his brothers and found them at Dothan.
Joseph was looking for his brothers. He was finally old enough to work with them in the fields and he wanted to be part of their group. He was already far from their favorite, with his dreams and fancy coat from their father. Joseph had to repair the relationship and show he was an equal and join them in the field. What if he didn’t find that man, or that man didn’t find him? What if he continued to wander or gave up and returned home? That encounter set into motion a chain of events that led to Joseph’s slavery and imprisonment in Egypt and, eventually, the enslavement of the Israelites by Pharaoh.
This week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev, is filled with encounters that have lasting effects, although the impact is not always immediate or clear. Joseph did not know that getting sold into slavery would result in a traumatic encounter with Potiphar’s wife. He did not know that landing in jail as a result of that trauma would lead him to meet the baker and the cup bearer. He had no way of knowing if the cup bearer, who Joseph correctly predicted would be exonerated and returned to Pharaoh’s palace, would remember him.
Each day, we meet people who may or may not change the course of our lives. It is impossible to know which moments will define us and which will pass by. There are stories about how a smile and kind word lifted up a person from a place of deep pain. How buying a cup of coffee for someone living on the street inspired others to do the same, starting a campaign of kind acts. There are also the people who don’t hold open a door, who cut us off while driving, who put us in a bad mood that carries through the day. We don’t know which encounter will bring which result. We move through our lives sometimes never knowing who we impact or never thanking those who impacted us.
As we come to the end of the secular year, take a moment to think about some of the encounters you had this past year. How did they change you? How did you change others? What were points of growth and what do you wish had happened differently? What encounters will shape us in the coming year and how will we recognize those potentially life changing moments?