Secrets of Success

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

            In Parshat Vayeshev we read the first half of Yosef Hatzadik’s history. We read of Yosef Hatzadik’s dreams and of his brothers selling him as a slave and of his eventual arrival in Egypt. As traumatic as his journey is, the Torah records that Yosef Hatzadik was matzliazch/successful in all he did wherever he was, whether in Potiphar’s house or in prison. What is the secret of his success? Can we adapt Yosef Hatzadik’s methods for our own self improvement? Our commentators cite two different ingredients to Yosef Hatzadik’s success, bein Adam laMakom/between man and God and bein adam lachavero/between man and his fellow man. The major clue that our commentators cite, especially Rashi, is that Yosef Hatzadik constantly speaks of Hashem, Shem Shomayim shogur bfiv.

            Potiphar saw that Yosef Hatzadik was successful and appointed him over his entire household. What did Potiphar see? He noticed that Yosef Hatzadik seemed to be muttering to himself whenever he entered a room or began a new task. At first, Potiphar assumed that Yosef Hatzadik was practicing the sorcery that was rampant in Egypt. But whether Yosef Hatzadik rebutted that assumption, or perhaps Hashem gave Potiphar a vision or a dream in which he “saw” Hashem with Yosef Hatzadik, Potiphar realized that Yosef Hatzadik’s success was attributable to Hashem’s intervention and not to sorcery.

            Nevertheless, we still see that evil people are often successful while righteous people often fail.  Success alone is therefore not proof that Hashem was with Yosef Hatzadik. The Ohel Yehoshua, the Zikover Rebbe, explains that Potiphar saw something unusual in Yosef Hatzadik’s behaviorYosef Hatzadik never took personal credit for his success, never asked for any benefit or promotion, adds Letitcha Elyon, always crediting Hashem. Even more, writes Tov Hapeninim, Yosef Hatzadik always asked for Hashem’s help in advance and always thanked Hashem afterward, a habit each of us can develop, whether what we need is big or small, material or physical.

            Many of us may already be in the habit of saying, “Boruch Hashem“, “B’ezrat Hashem,” and other such phrases on a regular basis. However, notes theChidushei Rabbenu Yosef Hatzadik Nechmiah citing the Shelah Hakodosh, for many of us, these phrases are mere lip service, recited by rote, without the full intention of the heart. In such cases, it is possible that we are committing the sin of mentioning God’s name in vain. Yosef Hatzadik didn’t just say the words, he meant them, adds Rabbi Wolbe z”l. He understood that although he made the decisions and did the planning, success or failure depended only on Hashem’s will. Our challenge is to realize that we are merely the conduit of Hashem’s will.

            The Yad Batorah notes that there seem to be two related ideas in Rashi here. The first is citing Hashem and crediting Him, and the second is success. Explains the Yad Batorah, human nature is that we take personal credit for our successes but blame Hashem (circumstances, etc.) for our failures. Even Naomi, mother in law of Ruth and great grandmother of Dovid Hamelech, can be ascribed to perhaps alluding to this. Upon returning to Beit Lechem as a childless widow in poverty, she declares, “I went out full, but Hashem has returned me empty.” We have to trust in Hashem’s support as much as we trust that the chair I am about to sit upon will support my weight. This is true for all small things as well as big things, whether it’s finding a parking spot, having all the ingredients I need on hand for my recipe, or building a successful business.

            How can we develop this habit? Rabbi Berkowitz in Six Constant Mitzvoth explains that prayer need not be formal. We should talk to Hashem throughout the day for everything we need or to thank Him for what we have. If we go into an empty room and talk to Hashem, it is clear that we believe in His existence, for no one else is in the room to whom we could be speaking. The reality of His existence has penetrated our heart as it had penetrated the heart of Yosef Hatzadik Hatzadik.

            Even when Yosef Hatzadik found himself in prison, he felt God’s constant presence. When the king’s cup bearer and baker had disturbing dreams, Yosef Hatzadik immediately said, “Isn’t God the interpreter of dreams?” When he was asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, Yosef Hatzadik again said, “This is beyond me. It is God Who will respond…”

            The key is to feel Hashem’s presence at all times, just as a husband and wife are aware of each other at all times, even when they are not actively involved with each other. After all, when we stood at Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah, writes Rabbi Pincus z”l, we accepted that kind of relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. We should sense His presence not merely three times a day during scheduled prayer times, but always, whether working in the kitchen, doing business, or caring for children. Relationship with Hashem and conversation with Him is 24/7. This relationship should cover all situations regardless of the challenges. In the depths of the dungeon, Yosef Hatzadik still knew God was with him. Can our situations be any more dire? We cannot blame our environment for any lapse in our commitment to Hashem and Torah, cautions us Rabbi Wolbe z”l.

            When we can live on this level of faith, we derive an additional benefit, notes the Ksav Sofer. If something negative happens, while we may feel pain for a time, we do not remain depressed and despondent, for we know Hashem is with us, supporting us. The Shechinah/Divine presence rested on Yosef Hatzadik and he could interpret the dreams. Yosef Hatzadik must have remained in a positive state in spite of his circumstances, for the Divine presence rests only on one who is in a state of joy. Faith provides one with a sense of calm and equanimity, for he knows Hashem is taking care of him. Yosef Hatzadik, being taken down as a slave to Egypt, thanked Hashem for being with him; he sensed Hashem’s caress through the sweet smelling spices the merchants were transporting instead of their usual foul smelling merchandise. The eyes of Hashem are always on those who await His kindness (Tehillim 33). We too can feel Hashem’s eyes upon us if we sensitize ourselves to His presence in our daily lives.

            But Yosef Hatzadik was not only about his personal relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. He understood that his appearance and his mood affected others as well. Therefore, Yosef Hatzadik made no excuses, writes Rabbi Shlomo Schwadron z”l . Even in the prison, he regularly greeted everyone sincerely, so much so that he noticed the change in the demeanor and mood of his fellow prisoners. This Maggid of Jerusalem makes the analogy that a talmid chacham/one who studies Torah, but is not pleasant to everyone is like a dish without salt, tasteless and perfunctory.

            How important is it to smile at others? It is life giving, even more than providing passersby with water on a hot day, writes the Saba of Slabodka.

            Rabbi Friefeld zt”l discusses this idea more fully. We are told that part of our mission in this world is to emulate our Creator. Just as our Creator gives life to all, so must we try to infuse a life force into others, to help build the world together. Certainly, we cannot give life in the same sense as the Creator of life, but we have the ability to invigorate others, to give them back a sense of self and importance, writes Rabbi Wolbe z”l in Alei Shor. How can we do that? Again, by emulating Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The verse says in Tehillim 80, “Haer panecha v’nevasheya/illuminate Your face that we may be saved.” We too can show a face lit up by a smile to others and invigorate them. That smile is a validation of the other. Even a baby senses when someone is smiling at him and smiles back, while he begins crying when he senses someone’s scowl, notes Rabbi Wolbe z”l.  All human relationships crave that validation, that smile of recognition, and Yosef Hatzadik was a master at greeting others first and actually caring about their state of being. In fact, our Sages make this a priority in human relationships, Shamai exhorting us to greet every person with a pleasant countenance, and Rabbi Masya ben Charash telling us to be the one to initiate the greeting.

            Yosef Hatzadik is described as an ish matzliach. Grammatically speaking, this is the causative form of being successful. In other words, rather than Yosef Hatzadik being successful in his own right, he helped others achieve success. When I show an interest in another, I am shining a light on him and making his day better, writes Rabbi Menachem Mendel Zaks z”l in Menachem Zion. To be successful, one must go outside oneself and be interested in the other.  Rabbi Scheinerman illustrates this point beautifully through Yosef Hatzadik’s own experiences. When Yosef Hatzadik tells his dreams to his brothers, when he is the focus of attention, he begins the process of his own downfall. In contrast, when he shows genuine interest in his other cellmates and their dreams, he begins the process of his own salvation. When you help others and give of yourself, you are giving also to yourself, notes Rabbi Druck in Aish Tamid. Actually, the purpose we were created for is to help others, writes Rabbi Yishai Rebo in Tocho Rotzuf Ahava. Halacha itself bears out this truth. According to the Magen Avraham, if one has minimal oil to light the Chanukah menorah and his friend has no oil, it is preferable that he light only one candle each night and share his oil with his friend so that both can kindle the light of Chanukah. A Jew helps his fellow Jew carry the difficult burden alongside him.

            Rabbi Salomon expands on this idea by citing the blessing Moshe Rabennu bestowed on the Tribe of Yosef Hatzadik. Moshe Rabennu declares that Hashem will bless Yosef Hatzadik’s land and make it bountiful. But Moshe Rabennu here refers to Hashem with an unusual designation, a name Moshe Rabennu has never used before, “Shochnei sneh/ the One Who rested upon the thorn bush.” Moshe Rabennu understood that Yosef Hatzadik felt the pain of others and provided for them through the years of famine. Through those difficult years, Yosef Hatzadik drank no wine and separated from his family so that he could identify with the pain of the people. This attribute was similar to that of Hashem Who appeared to Moshe Rabennu for the first time specifically in the thorn bush, indicating to Moshe Rabennu that He felt the pain of Bnei Yisroel’s enslavement and would come to their aid.

            But the image of God suffering along with Bnei Yisroel precedes this vision. Rabbi Wolbe z”l writes that our tradition says that during the entire era of our enslavement, Hashem kept a brick in his sight to remind Himself of the bricks Bnei Yisroel were forced to produce. At Mount Sinai, the elders saw the vision of this brick in sapphire, and understood that the purpose of man, and the purpose of Torah, is for men to feel connected to each other and to Hashem, and to bear the burden, to feel the pain, and to shine our faces toward each other as Hashem shines His face upon us. Success is not the goal, but becomes the result of this process. Yosef Hatzadik achieved success in all he did because he kept God always beside him while caring for others as he knew Hashem cared for him.

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