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At first glance, the story of Yosef seems to be the ultimate story of personal redemption, as he is separated from his family and sold as a slave to an Egyptian viceroy, only to soon find himself incarcerated in an Egyptian prison before he finally realizes his dreams of leadership, as Egypt’s second in command. Throughout the last four weekly portions of the Book of Genesis, the biblical narrative portrays Yosef in vastly different environments, giving the impression that the story of Yosef is one of “riches to rags to riches.”

Starting at a relative high point with Yosef living in the company of his father Yaakov, he is cast into a pit and sold as a slave to a high-ranking Egyptian official. Just when it seems his situation will improve when his master entrusts him with nearly his entire estate, Yosef finds himself imprisoned alongside two royal servants, a situation that Yosef himself describes as yet another sort of “pit.” Once again, although Yosef finds favor in the eyes of the prison guards, a full two years elapse before his interaction with his cellmates finally allows him to obtain a high-ranking position in the Egyptian government.


Although the environments in which Yosef finds himself are radically different, upon closer inspection, he plays a similar role in each of these situations. In Yaakov’s household, despite being deeply hated by his brothers, the Torah indicates that Yosef serves a leadership role in his family, as he reports on the actions and well-being of his brothers to his father and is awarded a special cloak to signify his right-hand man status. Additionally, in the household of the Egyptian nobleman Potiphar, Yosef once again serves as his master’s right-hand man, and accounts for nearly everything that happens on Potiphar’s estate. Moreover, Yosef is awarded a position of secondary leadership in prison, as he is appointed over the two royal servants who are incarcerated alongside him. Finally, Yosef completes his journey when he is appointed second in command over Egypt, overseeing a massive undertaking for the Egyptian economy that allows the nation to navigate through years of unprecedented plenty and subsequent famine, ultimately culminating this week with Yosef’s reunification with his family.

Despite his many trials and tribulations, separation from his family, and seemingly downward trajectory before he finally arrives in Pharaoh’s court, Yosef consistently finds relative success in every situation in which he finds himself – happily acting as second in command to Yaakov, Potiphar, the prison guards and Pharaoh.

Similarly, although sometimes a career trajectory might not be going in the direction we have envisioned, we can learn from Yosef’s consistency and persistence. Even when it seemed as if all hope was lost, Yosef was able to find success regardless of whether he was trapped in the confines of an Egyptian prison or lavishly adorned in Pharaoh’s palace. In addition to Yosef’s uncanny ability to achieve success wherever he finds himself, there is another lesson to be learned in Yosef’s contentment with the position of second in command. It is only natural to strive to climb the career ladder and take positions with seemingly more prestige, honor or perceived importance. However, the story of Yosef demonstrates that the key to success in any career is often happiness and self-awareness in playing the role that suits one best – even if such a role is not quite in the highest position of leadership and, as was the case with Yosef, especially when another role might be more befitting.

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Rami Nordlicht is a recent graduate of Yeshiva University, where he studied biology and history in hope of pursuing a career in medicine. He is fascinated by the depth and scope of Tanach, and is currently finishing his thesis on Rabbi David Zvi Hoffman's commentary to the Book of Leviticus. In his free time, he enjoys hiking the trails of the New York metropolitan area.