Parashat Vayigash and the Way to Success
Occupied with not being the loser? Want to succeed? Unsatisfied with what you have? In the Bible you can find an excellent model of success, which does not stop at the idea of a vision; it is beyond that – a way to approach life.
Too often being constantly occupied with the things we don’t have doesn’t allow us to deal with the things that we do have. In doing that we miss the elementary basis of our prospective fortune. But how does this relate to this week’s Torah portion?
Parashat Vayigash, starting Genesis 44:18 and ending 47:27, continues relating the encounter between Joseph and his brothers. To summarize the events so far, we’ll remind that Joseph, about 20 years before, was thrown away – sold – by his brothers, who then returned home and declared that he was dead. During those two decades he went through a pretty long path, from the dungeon at the jail to becoming ruler of Egypt. When famine hits the whole area, Egypt managed to survive thanks to Joseph’s master-plan. Jacob and his sons suffered hunger. Hearing that there are supplies in Egypt, 10 of the sons departed in a journey in the attempt to find food. In Egypt they meet Joseph, whom they do not recognize, and Joseph chooses to not identify himself. He hears their story and the brothers tell him that one of their siblings had disappeared and that the younger brother remained at home, watching their father. Joseph starts in actions aiming to bring the whole family to him, he takes one of the brothers as a hostage and sends the rest to bring Benjamin, the 11th brother. Jacob is not willing to send him, but is eventually persuaded by Judah (himself a bereaved father) who promises to bring Benjamin back home safe.
And here we see eleven brothers standing in front of the missing sibling, after years of exile and loneliness. This brother who was once thrown away now has great power… And then Joseph asks all his servants to step out of the room, leaving him alone with the 11 strangers…
2 And he wept aloud; and the Mitzrayim (Egypt) and the House of Pharaoh heard. This is a deep cry, which all the servants who just stepped outside could hear. A many years long “open circle” is finally closed.
3 And Yosef said unto his achim (brethren), I am Yosef; doth my father yet live? And his achim could not answer him; for they were shocked with dismay at his presence. The brothers were shocked, of course! In the past they almost killed him, and threw him to his destiny.
4 And Yosef said unto his achim, Come near to me, now. And they came near. And he said, I am Yosef achichem (your brother), whom ye sold into Mitzrayim.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me here; for Elohim did send me before you to save life. I know why you are scared, I remember the story but it’s over now…
8 So now it was not you that sent me here, but HaElohim; and He hath made me as an Av to Pharaoh, and master of all his house, and ruler throughout the whole land of Mitzrayim. I understand that the circumstances were stronger than us and I won’t be dealing with accusations.
9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son, Yosef, Elohim hath made me as master of all of Mitzrayim; come down unto me, tarry not; Go bring dad, end his suffering, tell him that I’m doing very well, give him some pleasure after all these years of suffering.
10 And thou shalt dwell in Eretz Goshen, and thou shalt be karov (near) unto me, thou, and thy sons, and thy sons of sons, and thy cattle, and thy cows, and all that thou hast:
11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of ra’av (famine); lest thou, and thy house, and all that thou hast, come to destitution. You will not need to care about anything, I am rich enough to give you all that you need, be close!
12 And, here, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Binyamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. And if this is not enough, as Rashi explains, you are to me like my brother Benjamin , who was not part of the sale, as if this never happened!
This is a formative moment, not only for this family but for the whole People of Israel. It’s a moment of light over the darkness (reminding ourselves of Chanukkah a few days ago).
Joseph doesn’t calculate the “debt” and is not at all occupied with not being a “loser”, and this is what makes him the ultimate winner. Imagine what would have happened to the siblings, to the father and to the continuation of our People if Joseph was busy with blame… Right, there wouldn’t have been a continuation; this would have been just like “shutting off the light”.
Recently a person close to me had the opportunity to be present at a lecture given by a Nobel Prize winner. He told me that during the talk the lecturer was mainly busy telling how angry he felt towards the people who at the beginning of his road did not believe in his scientific innovation. This was a scientific genius, holding the Nobel Prize, yet angry, frustrated and vengeful. A true winner? Of course not. No richness can be great when we are full of resentment.
Here, in Joseph’s story we see the great contrast. Joseph in his behavior changes history and brings a great innovation to the stories of our ancestors: brotherhood! The one which we feel connecting us to each other until this very day.
So what about the model of success?
Joseph’s behavior contains several principles which can be seen as predictors of success:
- Dreams; Joseph doesn’t only interpret dreams, he also allows himself to dream.
- Persistence, the thing which helps us survive when needed and lead when the time is right.
- Memory but not resentment; Joseph remembers but isn’t resentful, therefore he can be thoughtful as well as continue to build.
- Great generosity; Joseph’s generosity eventually makes him rich. When he shares with his family, his richness is enhanced by value, even if numerically it is slightly diminished.
Joseph manages to neutralize the resentment and by that clears up in himself the space to love, to share and to build. He is not busy with things he knows can’t be resolved. He remembers, but doesn’t let the memory of the past keep him from creating a better future. He doesn’t ask for a moment what he may lose, because that would be the opening to revenge and to lessening himself. He asks himself what he can gain, but moreover – what he can offer – and by that he opens the gates of heaven.