I remember seeing Wicked on stage. Playing out before my eyes was a radical retelling of the much more familiar Wizard of Oz story. Sure the music was better and the theatrics quite outstanding, but this new version had it all wrong. The green lady was supposed to be evil! Otherwise her getting drenched in flesh melting water was not justice, but cruelty. And so dawned on me the importance of perspective – how framing is just as, if not more essential to the meaning than the picture itself.
The curtain rises on act two of “Jacob and his sons’ descent to Egypt” with eleven distraught and dumbfounded men, standing stage left before Pharaoh’s second in command. One man steps forward, acting as a shield between his brothers and the stage right vizier. Everything about the Egyptian official he approaches, from clothes to mask, screams authority. The faces of the Israelites show just how tenuous the fraying thread of their fate has become. Then tension is palpable.
Having journeyed with these men through act one, we are privy to their perspectives. We can see the previously shared words dancing between their glances, “Alas, we are being punished on account of our brother [Joseph], because we looked at his anguish, yet paid no heed as he pleaded with us” (Breishit 42:21). For them, their current circumstance is no misfortune, but retribution for their past malice.
Yet for our character standing center stage, the iniquity goes much deeper. As he begins his heart wrenching plea to swap his own life in the place of Benjamin, we remember the oath he made to Jacob. “I myself will be surety for him, you may hold me responsible: if I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, I shall stand guilty before you forever” (Breishit 43:9). Meant to triggers another flashback, we in turn recall Judah’s own familial strife. Replaying before our eyes is the story of Judah’s two eldest sons passing away, and the tragic manner he is forced to understand the error of his ways. As if entreating the audience, the man standing center stage turns – eyes wide with regret – and says, “Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!” (Breishit 44:34). Judah knows all too well the pains of losing children. With that heavy on his mind, we come to see that he understands this predicament as more than mere restitution for his hand in selling Joseph, but a destined tikkun for the sins of his family.
In an outburst of emotion, our focus is dragged to the high ranking Egyptian. For him, everything is different. Joseph, who we know is the brother the others sold to slavery, remembers his dreams and sees this moment as their coming to fruition. He sends away all the extras on stage and reveals himself to his brothers. He reassures them that anger and revenge are not his motive – saying, “God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance” (Breshit 45:7). Through his eyes, this is not the time for vengeance, rather an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation.
While this exhausts the perspectives of those on stage, I am compelled to recall one last character in this grand epic – the long past actor watching our current scene from the cat walks high above. From his vantage point, Avraham cannot help but sigh at the final coming about of God’s promise to him, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Breishit 15:13).
Once again, I am forced to learn the lesson of perspective through the drama unfolding before us. The meaning of any story is colored by the lense of whomever’s eyes we choose to see it. If we truly desire to know the ultimate truth, we must heed the The Prince of Egypt’s sage advice, for “How can you see what your life is worth or where your value lies? You can never see through the eyes of man, you must look at your life through heaven’s eyes.”
I bless us all with the courage to take off our own perspective from time to time and try on one belonging to someone around us. And I pray that all the happenings of our lives be in our eyes, as king David says, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight” (psalms 118:23).