VORTIFY YOURSELF

From
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail rebiyosil@earthlink.net

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PARSHAT VAYIGASH

B'rayshit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27
Haftorah Ezekiel 37:15-28
011222

WHAT IS SUCCESS?

I can recall once sitting at an organizational meeting where a debate ensued concerning an evaluation of recent efforts of the organization. The point under consideration was a definition of “success,” and whether or not the organization had been successful in its efforts with regard to that program.

Only once in the entire Torah is there actually any reference a “successful” person. And that was with regard to Joseph, who we are told was a “successful man” (Gen. 39:1-2). This gives rise, of course, to the same question, “what is success?” In our age and in our culture, success is usually, and mistakenly, associated with great material achievements, with power, money, glamor and popularity. That is the American definition of success the criteria used for the “rich and famous” of our society. And yet, the Torah presents us with an alternative and what I believe to be a more profound definition of success. The Jewish definition of a success story can be found by examining Joseph's own life story.

Joseph, throughout his life, faced a series of critical tests and challenges. They represent the types of crises and problems experienced by all of us during our lifetimes.

First, at the tender age of seventeen, he was persecuted by his own brothers, torn away from his family and thrown into an alien environment. The love and care of a doting father is now replaced by the harsh demands of a slave owner. It is obviously a period of gloom and doom in his young life. And two possibilities exist at such a moment. One can be overcome with self pity, despair and hopelessness. Or he can determine to make the best of a difficult situation and face the future with hope and faith and determination.

Joseph opted for the second alternative. In his hour of misfortune and trouble and travail, he was imbued with faith in Hashem, and because “Hashem was with Joseph,” he never lost hope. He applied himself to his work; he found a blessing in the curse: he was able to see the silver lining in the clouds, and he did the best he could do under difficult circumstances. He was thus an optimist in that circumstance. He rose to the occasion.

The next crisis provided Joseph with a serious moral test. He had to face the powerful attraction of the mistress of the house, namely the wife of Potifar, and fight against temptation and evil. And as the Midrash and other sources indicate, it was not an easy matter. After all, Joseph was a young man, very attractive, with all of the urges of a person of his age. But again, Joseph succeeded, for at the height of this crisis and this challenge, he felt that he was not alone. He was able to see and recognize and be conscious of his moral responsibilities, of his presence before the Almighty and of his father's teachings and reputation. In a forceful tone he replied, “How can I do this great evil and sin against Hashem?” (Gen. 39:9)

The third crisis of Joseph's life came when he faced the powerful Pharaoh, and brilliantly interpreted his dream. From the bottom of a dark pit, he has now risen to the heights of fame and success and new fortune. He was about to become the Viceroy of Egypt. All admired his wisdom and his ingenuity, especially at that time of crisis for that country. It was so easy and so tempting to become vain and arrogant at his new-found success and influence, to treat success in a mood of self-congratulation. But Joseph, in characteristic humility, answers “It is not in me, only Hashem will give an answer to Pharaoh” (Gen. 41:16). Once again Joseph has succeeded. He has not permitted his meteoric rise and popularity and influence to corrupt or compromise his life and his principles. He doesn't strut about like proud as a peacock, drunk with his own success.

And the final crisis of his life is recorded in this week's Sedra. How will Joseph deal with his brothers after so many years of estrangement? When Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, he immediately reassures them of his fraternal feelings by declaring, “For it was to preserve life that Hashem sent me ahead of you..... to give you a remnant on the earth..... to save your lives in a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5-7). It is important to notice how often Joseph refers to Hashem at this tense moment of rapprochement, when he re-introduces himself to his brothers and seeks to affect a mending of ways.

These are the types of crises that we actually all face in life, each representing a different category. All of us at one time or another certainly fight despair, we battle our conscience, we seek to retain humility in the face of success, and we attempt to repair estrangements with those nearest and dearest to us. And if throughout these various changes of life we remember that man is not alone, but that man can be responsible for his actions. That man can at least guide his destiny, and that in spite of all of our achievements, our lives are still in the Hands of G-d. Like Joseph, we too can succeed when we are partners with Him in this shared effort.

Success is a matter of measure and humility, of not taking one's self too seriously, in the sense that one believes one has to be in total control, otherwise we lose it all. Success is not just making it, but knowing how to take it. Success means that one tries to do the best with what one has been given, never abandoning one's principles; remaining close to one's ideals, and capable of resisting the allure of overly vain and selfish pursuits. And success means that one can be good to one's self; that one can work to realize one's potential, but that one never forgets the final act and ingredient in the process of “making it,” and that is - G-d's good graces. Success also means that one sees achievement in the ordinary accomplishments. Success means that one need not move mountains; but success can be manifest in the ordinary everyday happenings, in raising a good family, in being a good provider, a good friend and a good citizen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig


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