Vayeishev – Yoseph

Yoseph endured three periods of imprisonment in his life, each one qualitatively different from the next.  After he was sold into slavery and led down to Egypt, he became a servant in the house of Potifar, one of Pharoah’s ministers.  The Torah records that “all that he put his hands to, God caused to become successful” (Gen. 39:3).  Following that episode, Yoseph was thrown into jail (wrongfully) and there as well he was successful.  But, here, the Torah describes his success a little bit differently; “And all that he did, God made successful” (Gen. 39:23) – omitting the words “put his hands to.”  The difference between the two levels is subtle but important.

Finally, of course, Yoseph became the viceroy of Egypt, second in command only to Pharoah himself, and it was there that Yoseph showed his true abilities and level of success.  But in order to understand the distinction between his success in the house of Potifar and in the jail, it is necessary to analyze success in general.  One who is successful is a “Bar Mazal.”  He has a certain level of success coming his way from Above, and it reflects itself in all of his activities.  However, that may occur on two levels: 1) Either it involves his actions, in order to trigger the success, or 2) He need not do anything himself, but his success occurs totally from Above.  In both cases, the level of success is far above the person himself.  But in the first instance, our efforts are involved, while in the second instance, we do not put out any effort, yet all the success arrives from Above.

These are the two levels of success that Yoseph experienced in his first two situations within Egypt. In the house of Potifar, “all that he put his hand to, God made successful.”  There was a servant (Yoseph) here, doing what God wanted and nullified to God’s will, and yet he still possessed an identity and a self who “put his hand” into efforts. So, here we see the first level of success – that of the man who is a “Bar Mazal” – one whose efforts are recognized and rewarded.

However, in his second situation, in Pharoah’s prison, Yoseph was totally lacking any identity whatsoever.  He was “nobody,” not even a servant.  And therefore, “all that He did, God made successful.”  That is, Yoseph put in no special efforts, and all that he did is what a normal human being does in order to survive, and yet God caused a tremendous level of success to emerge from this situation.

The reason for the higher level of success in the second situation (Yoseph in the prison) is because there was no “ego” involved in Yoseph’s avoda.  As a prisoner, he was without an identity and without an ego, so all the success that Yoseph experienced came from above, from God.  He basically became an eved pashut – a “simple servant” – and that is what prepared him for his third and final level of success, when he ran the entire country on behalf of Pharoah.  Because he was able to put his own concerns and ego aside, he formed himself into a cali, or vessel for Godly success from Above.

For more detail and explanation, go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 25, pp 213-219

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