When Freddie Patek made his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968, he became the shortest player in Major League Baseball. Despite standing only 5’5” high, he went on to a “successful” career including multiple (3) appearances in the All-Star game and leading the league in stolen bases (1977). When confronted by a (chutzpah-driven) reporter who inquired, “So, Freddie, what’s it like to be the smallest player in Major League Baseball?” He wryly explained, “Well … It’s better than being the tallest guy in the Minors…”
“Hashem was with Yosef, and he became a successful man … “ (39:2)
“The prison warden did not scrutinize anything … because Hashem was with him [Yosef]; and whatever he [Yosef] would do Hashem would make successful.” (39:25)
In this week’s Parshah we find the Chumash refers to Yosef as “matzliach” (lit. “successful”) on multiple occasions in diverse contexts. Given the unimaginable challenges that befell Yosef and given the radical gap between the “high hopes” of his youth and the “nightmare” which ensued, we gain a valuable insight into what the Torah defines as “success.”
Yosef sits alone. He is estranged from his brothers for an (alleged) ambition that he did not truly harbor. Having been sold as a slave to a butcher in Egypt, he is ultimately imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Virtually any hopes of being reunited with his father have been dashed. Light years away from the life he envisioned – a life of spiritual and material wealth, a life preparing himself to become the heir apparent to his father Ya’akov Avinu as the torch bearer of the emerging Jewish Nation – Yosef is galactically alone and without any (realistic) hope of achieving the brand or degree of “success” he had aspired to in his youth. This situation seems to have “failure” written all over it.
By repeatedly labeling Yosef a “success,” perhaps the Torah is teaching us that we never truly know how Hashem scores. What we perceive as a “successful” individual or the “good life” may bear little resemblance to the vision of “success” that Hashem has for each and every one of us. Indeed, one may despair from feelings that s/he is terribly “un-matzliach” when in fact one is, in G-d’s eyes, a true “success story.”
Perhaps our professional career never amounted to what we once dreamed it could become…
Perhaps our financial prowess pales in comparison to what we hoped it would amount to …
Perhaps our relationships are but a faint echo of what we thought they would be …
Yet, when the Torah labels Yosef as a “success” it is apparent that our notion of “success” — be it in our assessment of ourselves or others — may bear little (or zero) bearing whatsoever on how Hashem is “grading” our performance here on Earth. For when we endeavor to conduct ourselves in accord with Hashem’s Will – regardless of the circumstances and how dire they may become– such is the measure of true “success.”
Good Shabbos and Happy Chanukah!