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Reasonable Expectations

12/14/2018 02:04:31 PM


Whether or not you are open to seeing someone or something in a positive light makes all the difference.

I was recently counseling someone through a bitter dispute he was having with a client.  Understandably, he had built up a very negative image of the client.

In one of our sessions, he brought up a story about the client to further describe the client’s poor character. Coincidentally, I happened to know about that story, but I also knew further information that showed a very different angle to the story. In fact, that story proved that the client had a very kind side.

When I asked him if he could imagine a possible scenario that could turn the story into a positive one, he said no. He was adamant that the client was a very bad person, and that this story proved it even further.

Something very interesting was happening here. You see, we will only ever see that which we expect to be reasonably possible. But when we don’t expect something to be reasonably possible, we simply won’t be able see it.

This idea explains an episode in the story of Joseph and his brothers, which we continue to read about this Shabbat. When the brothers came down to Egypt to collect food for their families, they were introduced to Egypt’s viceroy, who happened to be Joseph. The Torah recounts, “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” Why the difference? A classic explanation is that when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they were all older than him and already had beards, whereas the young Joseph didn’t yet have any facial hair. Years later, however, Joseph did have a beard. That’s why his brothers did not recognize him, even though he recognized them.

This explanation is a little hard to understand. After all, we’ve all met people who have either grown their beard or removed their beard, and since we knew them well, we’ve still recognized them.

Ramban – Nachmanides (12th century) – offers a different and more psychological explanation. He writes that Joseph reasonably expected his brothers to come to Egypt one day. Firstly, he knew that they needed food. Secondly, he always waited for his dreams to be fulfilled, which would require his brothers to come and bow before him. His brothers, however, never expected in their wildest dreams that their brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery, would be the viceroy of Egypt. Since they never imagined such a possibility, they simply could not recognize him.

The lesson for us is important: We all choose what we deem to be possible and reasonably expected, both in our lives and from others. Sometimes, we lose all hope in ourselves or in others. When that happens, we’ve boxed our self into a narrow worldview, and we will simply be unable to see anything outside of the box. The smaller we make the box, the less we will ever see.

When, however, we choose to keep our box very large and open, we will discover beautiful things both about ourselves and about others.

So remember: Anything is possible, so long as you believe so!

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784