The book of B’reisheit ends this Shabbat and the Egyptian slavery is set to begin. Our grandparents are about to endure over 200 years of intense slavery. Their baby boys will be killed and entire generations will experience bondage, pain and fear. It is crucial for us to understand when this all started. The simple answer is written right in the Torah: “And a new king arose in Egypt who did not know Yoseph”. Immediately after that, we read about the slavery and all of the problems. I must admit, however, that even though it says it clearly in the Torah, I never fully understood it. Pharoah didn’t know Yoseph? It doesn’t matter to me if it was a new Pharoah or a revival of some old one, I simply never understood what that meant.
Think about it. Yoseph saved Egypt and the entire world! He single-handedly turned Egypt into the greatest superpower on Planet Earth and Pharoah; new, old or in-between didn’t know who he was? Ridiculous and simply impossible… yet that is what the Torah says! Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that it means something completely different and it wasn’t until I became active in politics that I finally figured it out.
As you know, the Torah is not a story book so if we are commanded to read these stories every year it is because Hashem wants us to learn the concepts that are behind them. Yoseph – the man – is not important. As great as he was, he came and went. We need to focus on something far greater; Yoseph the idea, Yoseph the dreamer and Yoseph the leader. Every person who became famous throughout history became that way because of their actions and Yoseph is at the top of the list. Yoseph is a legend and we yearn for his offspring – Moshiach ben Yoseph – to redeem us.
Allow me to focus this article on Yoseph the leader, since that is what answers the riddle above. When talking about Yoseph we tend to overlook his incredible leadership abilities. A tremendous amount of time is spent on his dreams and his colorful coat. We hear about his time in prison and his sudden rise to power yet we very rarely hear, read or learn about his Jewish leadership skills. It is those skills that must be analyzed and taught to every Jew in the world for it is precisely those rare skills that we desperately need today.
Yoseph excelled in four areas: Let’s first begin with what he did not do. This innocent man who spent 12 years in an Egyptian prison did not apologize. As we know, Yoseph was wrongfully accused yet all the way through he maintained his dignity and respect. I am certain that many of his prison buddies tried convincing him to simply apologize to Potiphar for the attempted rape of his wife. The Midrash states quite clearly that Potiphar knew Yoseph was innocent yet he threw him into the dungeon because he felt he had no choice. Had Yoseph simply apologized, Potiphar might have accepted him back. It was a win-win situation: The bad boy Hebrew slave was punished and the Egyptian minister showed he was tough. Now that the lowly slave had shamed himself, everyone could go on with life. That simple apology – even though it was untrue – was Yoseph’s ticket to freedom yet he chose not to do it. He preferred to sit behind bars in horrific conditions rather than admit to something he did not do. That “no-apology” attitude is Jewish leadership lesson #1.
The next thing Yoseph taught us is that we don’t move a muscle without Hashem’s guidance and direction. All, leaders today boast about one thing… themselves. Yoseph was not that way at all. He recognized the miracles he experienced and never forgot where he came from. Over and over again we read examples of Yoseph clearly focusing on Hashem, even though he lived in a land replete with idol worship. To make matters more amazing, Yoseph said these things directly to Pharoah who considered himself to be a god. That is not just called “chutzpah”, it’s called “a slap in the face” and could have easily landed Yoseph right back in the slammer, his 15 minutes of fame would have been over with a “thank you note” for interpreting the dreams. Who told him to start complimenting a Heavenly force which went against everything Egypt stood for? Yet, Yoseph stood strong and in front of the most powerful people in the world taught them a lesson about the true G-d in heaven. That is Jewish leadership lesson #2.
I often asked myself why Yoseph didn’t immediately contact Yaakov as soon as he could. When Pharoah appointed him Viceroy, he had the entire Egyptian army and population under his control. He could have easily sent a message to his father, yet he chose not to. And then, when the brothers came down to Egypt – seven years later – he did not jump in their arms and scream, “Hey guys, it’s me, Yoseph!!” Rather, he orchestrated an entire story that could have been a great mini-series on TV. Why did he do this? Why did he put his own family through these trials and tribulations? Simple… because of Jewish leadership lesson #3: A Jewish leader needs a vision and does not just deal with the present. Yoseph knew that what was unfolding was far more important than reconnecting with his father. I am certain that this pained him greatly because he had the tools necessary to quickly end this saga yet he chose to continue the temporary anguish in pursuit of the greater picture. How many leaders today have a vision like Yoseph? How many see the greater picture? The ability to postpone personal gratification for the betterment of society is quite rare. As much as Yoseph wanted to jump into his brother’s arms, he had to wait for the right moment, which had nothing to do with his personal desires. There was a master plan in place and he recognized that. Oh’ what a rare thing that is!!
Finally, if you want a PHD in YLT (Yosef Leadership Training) you must master the final piece of the puzzle. While this may have started out as a one-man show, Yoseph knew that the only way to succeed would be to work together with his brothers. All commentaries agree that the brothers were very nervous when Yaakov died. They felt that Yoseph would now take his revenge yet he quickly extinguished their fears. He assured them that, not only would he do them no harm, he needed them to be together as one strong family unit. Jewish unity was central to Yoseph and he had no intention of doing this alone. Each of the 12 tribes serve a very important purpose and we need all 12 to reach our goals. Yoseph taught us that in order to lead the Jewish nation one needs Jewish leadership lesson #4 which is Jewish unity!
Now, we can finally understand what Pharoah meant when he said, “he did not know Yoseph”. After Yoseph and his brothers died, a new generation arose, one that – unfortunately – did not incorporate any of the 4 leadership lessons stated above. Allow me to fast-forward and use examples from today: The new generation of Jewish leadership apologizes for winning defensive wars (Jews are supposed to die and then build memorials and museums), never mention Hashem in any public setting, have absolutely no vision of where they are going and cause more in-fighting and baseless hatred than anyone else in society. The Pharoah of 3,500 years ago and the Pharoahs of today have no idea who that “Yoseph” is. Yoseph is a concept – the concept of the strong and proud Jewish leader who does not apologize, brings Hashem into every equation, has a vision for the future including the Bet Ha’Mikdash and one which unites the entire Jewish world together.
Who is the Yoseph of today? Do YOU recognize him? What complaints can we have for an Egyptian Pharoah if we ourselves look at our modern day Yoseph and see something completely different? I too “do not know Yoseph”, although I look very closely. The good news is that in the same parsha where we read about Jewish slavery, torture and mass murder, we also read about a new leader being born who very quickly mastered Yoseph’s skills and actually added a few more of his own. I am convinced that the same thing is happening today. New leadership is coming to Israel – and I am proud to be part of this excitement! New leadership that will never apologize for living, building and growing. New leadership that will proudly declare that we are servants of our Father and King in heaven. New leadership that has a beautiful vision, ideology and path for Israel’s future and finally, new leadership that will unite Jews from all backgrounds and all levels of observance into the one beautiful Nation we were destined to be!