In one verse, we learn that after Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison on the truth of Joseph’s dream interpretation he no longer thought of Joseph and indeed forgot him.
In the next verse, we learn that two years passed after the cupbearer’s release. What happened to Joseph in prison during those two years? Was he sad? Was he angry? Did he feel abandoned by God as well as his family? Was he uplifted in faith? Was God present to him? Did he grow and mature? Did he rise from his descent ready to reconcile and lead others?
We clearly see in the whole text a positive trajectory for Joseph from the time of pride and precociousness to the time of power and responsibility. But what happened to him in prison that made this possible?
Among all the pain and feelings he must have experienced, surely Joseph must have gone through his own process of wrestling and resolution. With God’s help, he appears to have made a profound teshuva, a turning from aloofness and loss to love and leadership.
In those lonely moments, Joseph must have thought about his brothers and what he would do if he ever encountered them again. Is it possible that Joseph may have conceived a plan, if he ever had the wherewithal to implement it, to put his brothers through a transformation like his own? If so, they might grow as he did, finding ways to mature, to reconcile, and to live in ways pleasing to God.
Let’s look at the trials of the brothers to see how they reflect Joseph’s own moral growth.
First, Joseph identifies the brothers as spies in the land who have come to see the land in its nakedness. Wasn’t Joseph himself in his youth a sort of spy on his brothers who had dreams of taking control and advantage?
Second, just as Joseph needed to learn to shed the arrogance that hurt others, the brothers needed to relive their decision to abandon the vulnerable brother and choose not to do so again.
Third, Joseph, and later his brothers and father, needed to learn to live out the lessons of caring and kindness, of living face to face, that their tradition taught them but that they had not adequately put in practice.
Fourth, when weak and in peril, they learned to find God present, there to help and save.
Fifth, when made subject to false accusation, they learned to be confident in God and be accountable for their deeds.
Finally, open to, and seeking, reconciliation, they found their way toward a peaceful resolution of difference and discord.
Joseph descended, and then he rose. In rising from prison, he was prepared to bring up others who also fell. Theirs is the ascent God seeks in the world.