Midreshet Amit


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Yosef: Reaching One's Potential

By: Shuli Ferber

In this week’s Parasha, the Torah explores Joseph’s journey and his many downfalls. Joseph’s very first introduction is as someone who brings “evil reports” of his brothers to his father. Rashbam worsens this image by stating that when Joseph would tattletale, he would do so to highlight his own goodness at not doing their wrongdoings. The Sforno also shows Joseph undermining his brothers when he retells his dreams. Joseph deliberately emphasizes his want for his brothers to hear him, “Hear, I pray you this dream which I have dreamt”, because he wasn’t content just relating it but wanted to point out and urge his brothers to realize the meaning behind his dream. As a result, “they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words”.

Joseph doesn’t appear to be a leader let alone a Tzaddik. But, by the end of this Parasha, he’s regarded as a true servant of his father, brothers and Hashem. How does he get there?

The Torah points to the moment that Joseph began to change as being soon after he retells his second dream. This retelling of the dream exemplifies the peak of Joseph's pride and self-importance because he describes the heavenly bodies bowing down to him as a puny mortal. But, moments later Joseph humbly answers his father, with the single word "hinneni", to his request to find the brothers that hated him. Moreover, once he reaches his brothers, he seems to accept his fate and punishment in the pit with his complete silence and lack of retort. Here, Joseph reaches understanding, discipline and devotion and, seemingly after one of Joseph's lowest moments, he starts to change his character.

But Joseph's path to greatness was far from straight forward or easy. The Torah tells us, through the words, "Joseph had an attractive physique and good looks", that Joseph was still only thinking of himself. The Sforno adds that his new important role in Egypt led him right back to his self-righteous attitude which aroused Potiphar's wife's interest in him. But, in the face of one of his hardest trials, Joseph's inner strength saves him and the name of Hashem returns to his lips: "how can I do this great wickedness and sin against God". In the following chapters, Joseph's pride and illusions of grandeur evaporate.

Joseph learns through his sins, his punishments in the pits, and multiple trials with power that his dreams weren’t symbols of domination but of responsibility and duty to everyone especially Israel. Here, the Torah teaches us through Joseph's tumultuous journey that everyone can return back to Hashem. Even when we forget our place, He never leaves our side.

Our own lives are filled with ups and downs, with successes and challenges. We can learn from Joseph to see our lives as responsibility to ourselves and others and like Joseph reach our maximum potential.