Credit Where Credit is Due
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Yosef answered Pharaoh, “It is not in my power [to interpret dreams];
the Almighty will provide an answer to Pharaoh’s satisfaction.” …And
Pharaoh said to Yosef, “Since the Almighty has informed you concerning all
this, there can be none other with as much insight and wisdom as you.”
(Bereshith 41:16, 39)
We might think that after all the misfortunes and injustices he had
suffered, Yosef should have taken advantage of this rare opportunity to
claim credit because of his great humility. When he credited only God for
the interpretation of the dreams, Yosef passed up a “golden opportunity”
to impress Pharaoh. When Pharaoh saw this demonstration of Yosef’s
honesty, he recognized that Yosef was a person – perhaps the only person –
to whom he could entrust the welfare of his country.1
Someone who boasts about his own accomplishments appears to be serving God
for the sake of gaining honor for himself, rather than to bring glory to
God’s name. Such a person is held accountable for his boasting.2 For this reason many righteous people make
it a habit to conceal their good deeds and downplay their spiritual level,
ensuring that their intentions in serving God will always be pure.
Humility of this type is permitted and praiseworthy. Accordingly, if
someone is asked a question whose answer would bring him honor (for
instance, if he is asked how many tractates of Gemara he knows), he is
allowed to deviate from the truth in order to avoid this honor.3
One must be careful to give credit where it is due, especially regarding
words of Torah. Someone who repeats words of Torah that he has heard from
another without mentioning the name of the one who originated the ideas is
considered a thief4 and a liar5 and he brings forces of destruction upon
the world.6 This offense is especially
severe if the originator of the Torah concept is no longer living, for
mentioning his name in connection with his Torah thoughts would bring
tremendous merit to his soul.7 On the
other hand, one who ascribes the proper credit to the originator brings
redemption to the world.8
1 Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz in Sichoth Mussar.
2 Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 565:1.
3 Bava Metzia 23b.
4 Tosefta Bava Kama, Ch. 7; Rav Akiva Eiger and Magen Avraham
on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 156; Responsa Nodah B’Yehudah, Orach Chaim
5 Responsa Maharam Shik Yoreh De’ah 156.
6 Masecheth Kalah, end.
7 Sanhedrin 96b.
8 Pirke Avoth 6,6.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org