12:20 They sold him for a paltry price.
It is not surprising that Joseph’s brothers sold him for a small price. What is surprising is the work of those travelers, who acquired someone like Joseph for twenty dirhams! It is not surprising that people should sell subsistent paradise for this small world. What is surprising is that they gain such a magnificent paradise and tremendous kingdom with a loaf of bread given to a poor man! Indeed, good fortune does not have a price, and the Real’s generosity is nothing but a gift. If what Joseph possessed in himself—the characteristics of sinlessness, the realities of proximity, and the subtleties of knowledge and wisdom—had been unveiled to his brothers, they would not have sold him for that small price, nor would they have called him a slave. A single speck of those characteristics and subtleties was unveiled to the governor of Egypt and Zulaykhā. Look how they bestowed their kingdom on his work and what value they placed on him! So also, when the women of Egypt saw his beauty, they said, “This is no mortal! This is none but a noble angel” [12:31]. Yes, it is showing that does the job, not seeing. Muṣṭafā said, “O God, show us things as they are!”
Ibn ʿAṭāʾ said, “Beauty is of two sorts, outward beauty, and inward beauty. Outward beauty is an adorned creation and a lovely form. Inward beauty is perfect character and fine conduct.” The Lord of the Worlds showed Joseph’s outward beauty to his brothers. They saw nothing more, even though in God’s eyes the outward has no importance. Hence they sold him for a small price. A trace of the inner beauty was shown to the governor of Egypt, so he said to his wife, “Give him generous lodging” [12:21]. This is so that the world’s folk may know that in God’s eyes importance and worth belong to inner beauty, not outward. Muṣṭafā said, “God gazes not on your forms or your possessions, but He gazes on your hearts and your deeds.”
It is said that one day Joseph looked in a mirror and gazed at himself. He saw perfect beauty and said, “If I were a slave, what would my price be!? Who would be able to pay it?” The Lord of the Worlds did not let that pass, not until Joseph had tasted the punishment of gazing on himself. He was made a slave, and his price was twenty dirhams.
“Do not adorn yourself,” and let the Real adorn you: And He adorned it in your hearts [49:7]. “Do not approve of yourself,” and let the Real approve of you: God approves of them [9:100]. Do not belong to yourself, and let the Real belong to you: Thou didst not throw when thou threwest [8:17]. On the night of the miʿrāj, He said to Muṣṭafā, “Be for Me as if you were not, I will be for you as I have always been.”
It has also been said that they sold a soul whose selling was not permitted, so his price even were it great, would be paltry. Among the things you do, that is even more surprising is that you sell your soul for the sake of the lowest appetite after you sold it to your Lord at the highest price; that is in His words, “Surely God has bought from the faithful their souls” [9:111].