by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Success by Whose Standards?
This week's class is dedicated to the speedy healing of Azriel Yitzchak ben Chaya Gitel.
"Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, 'so says your son Yosef,
"G-d has placed me as master over all Egypt -- descend to me, do not
Yaakov's son Yosef, after disappearing 22 years earlier, sends a message
of consolation to his father. Yosef tells his father that he is now the
ruler of Egypt, in power if not name, and invites his family to escape the
famine in the Land of Israel by coming down to him.
Rabbi Yaakov Neiman, author of Darche Mussar, wonders what sort of
consolation Yosef is providing when he touts his leading position with the
Imagine an upper-class American family whose young son disappears from
their penthouse apartment in Manhattan. Twenty years later, Western Union
delivers a telegram: their son is alive! Their son, Andrew, goes on to say
that he now leads the largest Aboriginal tribe in Western Australia, and
looks forward to holding a feast in their honor complete with rare iguana
meat and a prized kangaroo.
Is that a consolation? Of course they are happy to know he's alive. But
given their own aspirations and vision of what it means to be successful,
is the fact that he's a leading Aborigine something that brightens their
If we look in Jewish sources, we are taught that our objective in life
should be spiritual rather than material greatness. By that standard, why
would Yaakov be happy to hear that his son was a viceroy? Why should he be
any more delighted knowing his son is a leading Egyptian, than a tony pair
of Manhattanites would be to learn their son is an Aboriginal tribal
chieftain? On the contrary, if anything his disappointment and heartache
should be all the greater.
So Rabbi Neiman explains: the key here is not the news that Yosef
delivered, but rather how he phrased it. "G-d has placed me as master over
When a person attains a high position, it is normal for him to mention who
appointed him, or who elected him, or how he managed to get there. Yosef,
however, says nothing about Pharoah. He attributes everything to G-d.
This being the case, we can understand why this was such good news to
Yaakov. After so many years, and after Yosef was tested in so many
different ways, having literally experienced both the lowest rank in an
Egyptian prison, and the heights of rulership -- still, nothing has shaken
the knowlege of G-d that he acquired in his father's house. He remained
the holy individual that he had been. That is the news that Yosef knew
would come as a tremendous delight to his father.
We, too, can decide which forms of greatness we care to pursue, and whose
influences will rule our lives. Given a much greater choice of influences
than Yosef, we should take advantage of every opportunity to choose the
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2004 Torah.org.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis - Torah.org.