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What’s the magic formula for success? What makes some people prone to it while others never seem to achieve it?

“Success” appears in last week’s parshah, which recounts the story of Yosef Hatzaddik. Thrown into a pit, left to share the company of snakes and scorpions, sold as a lowly slave by his own brothers, separated from his beloved father, appointed to serve in an environment of depraved morals, forced to spend 12 precious years in jail among delinquents, awaiting sentence for an unfounded accusation – what worse situation could a person find himself in? Yet, the Torah describes Yosef as an “ish matzliach,” a successful man. (It is noteworthy that never again does the Torah use the word “matzliach.”)

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What does it take to be deemed successful? People will answer this question in a variety of ways, but I can’t fathom anyone using the term “success” to describe Yosef at this point in his life.

Yet, success, according to our Sages, is dependent on man’s frame of mind. As the Yiddish expression goes, “Tracht gut, vet zein gut – Think good and it will be good.” Remaining upbeat and positive – that’s all it takes. The key to success lays in our ability to trust and remain hopeful even when in distress.

This message is exactly how the late Rabbi Shimon Biederman of Lelov gently comforted an eight-year-old boy whom he found bitterly crying, having been offended by his classmates in school. “I was put to shame,” complained the young boy, sobbing. “How can I ever succeed if I’m being looked down upon?”

The rabbi walked over to the bookcase in his study, took a Chumash Bereishis from the shelf, leafed through it, and read aloud excerpts of the plot concocted against Yosef. He looked the boy straight in his eyes and, carefully weighing his words, said, “Success is a state of mind. Whether one fails or succeeds is a choice left to each one of us. No one can rob us of anything unless we choose to give up on it.”

The boy is today a grown-up, middle-age man, who relates the rabbi’s message and the direction his life took as a result. Rabbi Biederman’s words stuck with him and constantly infused him with renewed energy.

The challenges Yosef encountered were great; they would have knocked many a person down. After all, how much can a person handle? It would have been only natural to give up, but Yosef made a conscious decision to possess a certain attitude towards life and its trials. He had a goal. Nothing would deter him from reaching it and so he became master of his own destiny. That is one of the precious lessons one should walk away with when reflecting on the story of Yosef Hatzaddik.

It is no wonder that Yosef, from the depth of the pit, rose to become “mishneh lamelech,” the second to Pharaoh. By not allowing life’s circumstances to knock him down, he reached the apogee.

Our thoughts have the power to create endless possibilities. It all starts (or ends) in our mind. We can reach as far as we allow our imagination to drift. The brothers deemed Yosef “baal hachalomos,” the dreamer. It takes a great visionary to accept life’s conditions with equanimity and firmly believe that nothing is too far-fetched. Those are the people that single-handedly build empires. Their hatzlacha stems from their firm trust that in life, everything is possible.

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Rebbetzin Miriam Gross was director of education and assistant dean at EYAHT – Aish Hatorah's College for Women in Israel – for close to 30 years. Born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium, Rebbetzin Gross today lives in Jerusalem where she lectures, teaches, and serves as a Torah-based counselor. She can be reached at RebbetzinGross.JP@gmail.com.
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