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Parshat Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

“Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.” (Genesis 37:3)

JCC Association staff meetings begin with a D’var Torah prepared by one of its departments. This week’s perspective on the weekly parasha (portion) is condensed from the lesson prepared by the Mandel Center for Excellence in Leadership and Management: Odelia Epstein, Andy Paller, David Posner, Michael Rowland, and Jordan Zarin.

Parshat Vayeyshev introduces the cycle of Joseph-and-his-brothers stories, the longest sustained narrative in Genesis.  Luck (or fate) plays a prominent role in the saga.  Joseph begins life privileged:  he’s the first-born son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved.  Joseph is also Jacob’s favorite son, symbolized by the “coat of many colors” Jacob gives him.  His luck changes, though, as his brothers conspire to kill him out of jealousy and hatred.  This good luck/bad luck pattern continues throughout:  rather than kill him, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery, and he ends up working for Potiphar, one of the most powerful men in Egypt (good luck).  But Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of seducing her, and he ends up in jail (bad luck).  The warden recognizes Joseph’s abilities, and delegates much responsibility to him (good luck).  This is how Joseph comes to interpret the dreams of Pharoah’s wine steward and baker (more good luck).  Unfortunately, when he is freed (as per Joseph’s interpretation of his dream) the wine steward forgets to mention Joseph’s ability to Pharoah (bad luck). So, is Joseph lucky or not?

Jim Collins and Mort Hansen write in their new book, Great by Choice, that great companies and “also-rans” enjoy the same number of good luck events and bad luck events.  In fact, the sustainably great companies report slightly less good fortune.  But great companies make the most of their opportunities by taking better advantage of their good luck and whining less about their bad luck. It is not luck itself, but what you make out of it, that is the distinguishing factor.

So, too, in our personal lives.  We will enjoy periods when we feel especially blessed and times when we feel particularly cursed.  Like Joseph, we need to recognize good luck as a gift to build upon, and to accept bad luck as inevitable, but not be imprisoned by it.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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