Many of us certainly remember the bitter taste of medicine. Before artificial sweeteners and capsules, taking medicine was, well… a hard pill to swallow.
Let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s shoes on his trip down to Egypt. After having lost his mother Rachel as a teenager, nearly killed by his brothers and thrown into a pit with poisonous snakes and scorpions (see Rashi’s commentary), he is then torn from his home, separated from his father, and sold as a slave in a foreign country. What can a person in such distress do to prevent a complete breakdown, and maintain his commitment and trust in G-d?
“Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and lotus, to take [them] down to Egypt (Genesis 37:25).” Why must the Torah record what merchandise was in Joseph’s caravan? Rashi’s commentary explains that normally the caravans carried merchandise with unpleasant odors, but for the sake of Joseph, this one carried the pleasant scents of spices. But consider the circumstances! In that situation, would Joseph really care whether the smells were fragrant or foul?
The answer may be counter-intuitive, but yes, he would care. He would care, and that was the key to Joseph’s unwavering commitment and positive attitude despite the rough road he was to travel. By focusing on even the small positive signs among the most trying circumstances, we can change our own attitude dramatically, and can muster the strength to move forward. G-d’s medicine may sometimes be bitter, but He adds a “spoonful of sugar” that we’d be wise to search for and embrace (Otzros HaTorah & Chofetz Chaim).
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org