Parashat Miketz: The Positive Effects of Positive Thinking
In Parashat Miketz we read about Yosef’s rise to the powerful position of second-in-command in Egypt. He marries and has two children, the second of which he names "Menashe," which stems from the root "N.Sh.E." – "forget." As the Torah explains, this name commemorates the fact that "G-d has made me forget all my travails and all my father’s home" (41:51). Surprisingly, Yosef celebrates the fact that he "forgot" his family.
We must wonder, did Yosef really forget about his grieving father? Surely, he realized that his father, who loved him dearly, was mourning his presumed death. Could we imagine Yosef being so insensitive as to forget about his father, and even celebrate his emotional detachment from Yaakob?
Earlier, in Parashat Vayesheb (37:35), we read that Yaakob was inconsolable after seeing Yosef’s bloodstained cloak, which seemed to indicate that Yosef was killed. Even after months and years passed, Yaakov was still pained and grieved. Our Sages explain that G-d embedded within human nature the capacity to forget and move on after a loved one’s passing. The pain gradually subsides, and although one will always feel the void in his life, nevertheless, has the power to forget so he can pick himself up and recover from the devastation of the loss. However, this applies only if the beloved family member actually died. In Yosef’s case, Yaakob assumed that he had died, but in truth, he was alive. Therefore, the pain did not subside. Yaakob found no comfort, and so he continued mourning and was incapable of experiencing any consolation.
Yosef was aware of his father’s inconsolable grief, and so he sought to help, even as he lived far away in Egypt. Yosef knew a powerful secret of which we should all be aware, namely, that our thoughts about other people have an effect on their thoughts about us. If we think positively about a certain person, this will impact upon their perception of us, and they will think of us positively and fondly. Thus, for example, when Ribka sent Yaakob away from home to flee from Esav, who wanted to kill him, she told Yaakob to remain away from Eretz Yisrael "Ad Shub Af Ahicha Mimecha" (literally, "until your brother’s anger subsides from you" – 27:45). This has been explained to mean that when Esav’s anger would subside, Yaakob would feel it. When Yaakob would begin experiencing positive feelings towards Esav, this would indicate to him that Esav felt positively towards him. Hashem created the world in such a way that even when people are situated far away from one another, their feelings about one another have a mutual effect.
Yosef sought to utilize this power in order to help his grieving father. Yosef decided that he would try to forget about Yaakob, and this, in turn, would cause Yaakob to forget about him, so he could experience a degree of comfort and solace.
The practical lesson for us is to always be mindful of the extraordinary power of positive feelings. When we have reason to feel resentful towards a person, our instinct is to focus on our negative feelings and allow that negativity to grow and fester. We must oppose this natural tendency and do just the opposite – harbor positive, fond feelings towards that individual. As counterintuitive as such a response is, this will ultimately be to our benefit, as these positive feelings will profoundly affect that other person’s mindset and trigger positive feelings and fondness towards us.