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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Vayeishev (Genesis 39:1-18) – Joseph has the X-Factor

>Last year a survey was conducted of families to discover what children’s career aspirations were. Amongst five to eleven year olds, the most popular careers are now: sports star, pop star and actor. This contrasts significantly with the findings 25 years ago, which had teacher, banker and doctor at the top of the list. Our society has become obsessed with celebrities, they are always on the front page of the press, and they are lead items on radio and television broadcasts. With such a degree of prominence, it is little wonder that children aspire to be famous. The cult of reality television is also often blamed by many experts for this change in culture, as these programs present a ‘get famous quick’ path to fame and fortune. Many children assume they just have to sing in front of Simon Cowell to be handed a recording contract, pots of money and a paparazzi following.

At one point it seemed that Joseph was destined for a life of fame and fortune. At the very beginning of the Torah portion Joseph was having dreams where sheaves of corn bowed down to his sheaf, and where the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him (Genesis 37:5-9). There was already a tension between Joseph and his brothers, because of their father Jacob having a favourite (Genesis 37:3), and these dreams only served to deepen the divide between the siblings. Things got so bad that the brothers decided to sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders (Genesis 37:28), lying to their father that Joseph had been killed (Genesis 37:32).

At this lowest point, one might imagine that Joseph would have done anything to regain his former status, and at the very least elevate himself out of servitude. In Potiphar’s house Joseph was once again highly regarded, and Potiphar ‘made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand’ (Genesis 39:4). It seemed like Joseph’s stock was once again rising.

But then Mrs. Potiphar took a shine to Joseph: ‘And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me’ (Genesis 39:7). Now Joseph may have feared for his position if he did lie with his master’s wife, but he must also have feared for his position if he refused her. And despite his initial refusal, she proved to be persistent, asking him everyday to lie with her. Surely for Joseph it would have been easiest to acquiesce to his mistress’s demands, and continue to serve his master in the house. Successfully serving Potiphar and satisfying his wife, it is likely that his star would have continued to rise.

Ultimately, Potiphar’s wife grabbed hold of Joseph’s clothing (Genesis 39:12) and then claimed to her husband that Joseph had in fact tried to seduce her (Genesis 39:17). Once again Joseph found himself at rock bottom, as he was placed in prison by Potiphar (Genesis 39:20). And yet Joseph never gave up, he became the senior prisoner working with the keeper of the prisons and once again did not let adversity stand in his way.

Joseph provides an example of how one needs to keep persevering to reach to the top and attain ones dreams. There was no Egyptian reality television show to elevate him to superstardom and instead he had to rely on his God-given talents, hard work and a little bit of luck, being in the right place at the right time.

When we read the story of Joseph we read the story of someone who attained celebrity and stardom not through some quick fix, but with a lot of hard work and setbacks along the way. The arrogant boy was forced to become a man, and along the way he set an example for all of us to emulate; a far more important example than many of today’s so-called celebrities.

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