VaYeshev: The Successful Man

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

Our Sages attach the appellation Tzadik, righteous one, to Yosef, presumably because of his ability to withstand the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife. Yet the Torah itself refers to Yosef as an Ish Matzliach[1], a successful person, no less than three times. And what a success story Yosef is.

Pulled out of a pit and sold into slavery, Yosef rises to be the second most powerful person in the world, establishing much of the policy of the State. Yet it is not as Viceroy that Yosef is referred to as an ish mazlaich but rather we find this appellation during the darker days of his life—twice while he is a servant in Potiphar's home and once when he finds himself in jail. Being sold into slavery and ending up in jail cut off from one's family is not normally how one would think of success.

Yet Yosef refused to let life’s disappointments stand in his way. His success is manifest in the trust others put in him. It is hard to imagine that a Hebrew slave could be so readily appointed head of the household of an Egyptian prince. The Egyptians would not even eat with the Hebrews: “And [his master] placed him in charge of his household giving him responsibility for everything he owned” (Breisheet 39:4). Yosef exuded a sense of trustworthiness, honesty and hard work along with his charisma. Even when accused of rape, it was clear to Potiphar that this was a false accusation. If he had believed the charges he surely would have had him executed. And when Yosef was appointed Viceroy it was this same Potiphar who gave his daughter to Yosef in marriage (Breisheet 41:45).

In jail he gained the trust of the warden, so much so that “the prison warden placed all the prisoners who were in the prison into Yosef's hand” (Breishset 39:22). Yosef seemingly did not recognize how unusual that is – especially in royal courts. He assumed the butler would remember him to Pharoah, a mistake he had two long years to think about. And there can be no greater demonstration of the trustworthiness than being appointment as Viceroy of the most powerful empire of the ancient world.

Success is not to be defined by the circumstances that one finds oneself, those often being beyond the control of man. Rather, it is how one responds to those circumstances that defines success. Sadly this success came about only after he learned the lessons of his immature and arrogant youth. “And Yosef brought evil reports [about his brothers] to their father” (Breisheet 37:2). The Torah does not tell us what those evil reports were – perhaps because there is no evidence and no reason to believe that they were in fact true[2]. And even if they were true, snitching on one’s brothers in not the proper response.

Yosef foolishly felt the need to share them with his brothers something that only garnered further hatred from his brothers. When he broadcast his second dream it was too much even for his father who “scolded him”.

These words of rebuke began the long process of Joseph’s maturation. The next words we hear from him are “it is my brothers that I seek". (Breisheet 37:16)

Yosef became a man of few words. The only words he says in Potiphar’s home to Potiphar's wife “how could I do such a great wrong and sin before G-d?” (Breisheet 39:9). He does not even try to defend himself against false accusations. The next we hear from Yosef he is inquiring about the welfare of his jail mates. Instead of foisting his dreams upon others he help interprets the dreams of others. And the rest is history.

 

[1] Fascinatingly, the only person referred to as a tzadik in the Torah is Noach. 


[2] Rashi notes that he accused his brothers of ever min hachai, eating the limb of a live animal, of looking down the children of the maidservants, and of sexual immorality. All three came back to haunt him. His coat was dipped in the blood of a slaughtered animal, he was sold as a slave and was accused of rape.