July 12, 2024
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What is success? Once a year, as we read Parshat Mikeitz, we are reminded of a believing Jew living in a foreign culture—Yosef the tzadik. As long as complete redemption has not arrived, most of us encounter many contradictions daily in our world of values. We live, study and work in settings where we do not feel entirely at home. Many of us can be inspired by the character of Yosef, so it is worth dwelling on every detail:

“Hashem was with Yosef, and he was a successful man; he stayed in the house of his Egyptian master.”

This passage raises in full force a modern question: Is it possible to combine success in working in a foreign environment with a strong Jewish identity? Note that the phrase that describes Yosef sounds as if it was derived this morning from the newspaper—“a successful man.” Usually, in modern culture, one who is rich, handsome or famous is referred to as “successful.”

In the Torah, success is something else. A successful person connects success to the Source of success all the time. Even his Egyptian master knew how to attribute the success of Yosef to God. Rashi writes: “The name of God was a familiar word in his mouth.” Everyone who knew Yosef heard from him about God! He did not attribute the success to himself—even strangers who came in contact with him immediately understood his identity.

The Midrash writes of Yosef, who was “whispering and coming in, whispering and going out.” Yosef would pray while at work, not forgetting for a moment where he came from and who he was. Yosef, who is in a completely foreign Egyptian culture, where it is more difficult to maintain spiritual independence; Yosef, who a short time ago was thrown into a pit by his brothers; Yosef, who has all the reasons and excuses to be angry with his family and maybe even assimilate—Yosef does not break away from his father’s house and identity.

And more than that: If he had faced hardship and bitterness in Egypt, it might have been more apparent to us that he was supposed to turn to God, but even when he is advanced and very successful he turns to God! It’s not easy to behave in such a manner. But Yosef does, and it evokes respect in the non-Jewish environment around him.

This is a principle that is important to remember: Awe inspires awe. Once a candidate for vice president, Joe Lieberman is the Jew who has reached the highest status in American politics. In his book about Shabbat (that was recently translated into Hebrew), he writes that, in particular, keeping Shabbat aroused great appreciation for him. He would stop the presidential race once every seven days, and people around him praised him for standing by his principles. His message to the younger generation, in America and worldwide, is huge: You do not have to give up your tradition to reach the top.

On the contrary, tradition is part of what you bring with you to the role. Lieberman summed it up when he wrote: “When asked: ‘How can you stop all your work as a senator to keep Shabbat every week?’ I answer: ‘How could I do all my work as a senator if I did not stop to keep Shabbat every week?’”

May we all have such success.


Sivan Rahav Meir is a popular Israeli media personality and World Mizrachi’s scholar-in-residence.

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