Jewish Thought

Look out for Others!

“And G-d was with Joseph and he was a successful man.” (Genesis 39, 2)

The Hebrew language has treasures of hints and secrets in its letters and words. Deciphering them, you can get the exact definition of a word. After getting the correct root of the word you can move forward and uncover treasures hidden in even one word of the Torah!

“Successful” which was said about Joseph in the above verse, in Hebrew is ‘matzliach’. Hidden in this word is the secret of success. ‘Matzliach’ has the word ‘tzalach’ in it, which means to cross over obstacles and get to the other side. Joseph knew how to cross over from one situation to the next without suffering personal upheaval. He could cross currents of mighty waters and not get washed away and he skipped over many obstacles.

He skipped from being the coddled ‘son of his old father’ dressed in a striped garment, to a pit full of snakes and scorpions. He successfully passed the test of Potiphar’s wife. Not everyone could bounce back from being in the holy home of Jacob and then be thrown into a pit and then sit 12 years in a prison and be yanked straight from prison to become viceroy of Egypt. All this happened without changes in his persona.

Someone who can cross all these obstacles with strength and faith can be called ‘matzliach’- successful for he crossed over every obstacle. This is the secret of success.

Only someone like the righteous Joseph that climbed from the pits to dizzying heights, to rule over Egypt-the world’s mightiest nation and keep his faith, He is worthy of the title ‘matzliach’-sucessful.

In a strange land

Now let's take this one step further and think about the resources available to Joseph’s that brought him success and then we'll come to the conclusion that only through his concern for others did Joseph reach the heights he did.

When Joseph was in prison he saw the crestfallen faces of the minister of drink and minister of baking and asked them: “Why are your faces sad today”? It bothered him that others were suffering.

The verse testifies that the divine presence dwelled with Joseph even in prison as it says: “And Joseph's Master put him in the prison.” The next verse says: “And God was with Joseph”. That means that the divine presence rested on him, that even inside jail he still was happy; because the divine presence can't dwell on someone unless he's happy. With this happiness Joseph overcame all his obstacles.
Joseph is in a strange land far away from his relatives and friends. Not only that, he was sold as a slave that doesn't have any self-identity, comparable to a donkey or an ox, the property of the owner. Joseph proudly proclaims his Judaism as the verse says: “I was taken from the land of the Hebrews.” Being taken away should have caused him pain but he still successfully overcame this pain with happiness. With such happiness he had the strength to make others glad. The minister of drink and minister of baking both benefited from his advice even in a difficult situation. The strength of Joseph’s faith enabled him to be concerned for others.
This concern for the welfare of others was one link in a whole chain of events that brought him to greatness. If Joseph would have been wrapped in his own sorrow and not sense the pain of someone else the minister of drink would not have ultimately mentioned him to Pharaoh.

Our forefather Abraham also had this trait of caring for others even when he himself was suffering. Abraham on the third most painful day after his circumcision ran to receive the three guests. His sole ambition was to do kindness to others and eventhough he was in pain it didn’t matter. This concern for the three guests brought him salvation. One guest healed him and the other guest blessed him with the son he waited for. (We see form here that any effort for someone else ultimately is an effort for your own benefit!)

They have different opinions

Why is it so difficult for someone to be concerned for the other? What holds us back from this? The idea that he thinks differently than me, he’s against me. But the fact is everyone is different and they have different opinions than me so what did I expect anyway? That he should be just like me? The Kotzker Rebbe sharpened the question; “Would you go over to someone and slap him soundly in the face just because he doesn’t look exactly like you? Most definitely not! Everyone knows to respect the difference his friend has. This is of G-d’s wisdom that there are billions of people and no two are alike.

So if you can respect that your friend is different than you extend that to respect that his ideas are going to be different than yours and this is nothing against you personally. He’s not picking a fight! The varied opinions across the spectrum of the nation Israel should not be an obstacle to our unity. I can think differently and so can he!


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