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Leadership Assistant

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

In the personalities of the great Biblical personalities, we see patterns. Each had his own special relationship with God. Each approached his life goal and purpose differently, yet they were all holy.

Abraham did not try to be Shem; Joseph did not try to be Isaac. Your test is to find your particular path to greatness. When you study the personality of Joseph, for instance, you can see a little bit of yourself in him. But that doesn't mean you should try to become Joseph. Of course, we can all use Joseph and the other great individuals as examples of accomplished spiritual personalities. But only if his life circumstances speak to you as an individual, should you try to emulate him.

Your strengths are your own, and becoming great depends on you developing those, not the strengths of others.


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Jacob encourages Joseph to report back about the brothers in order to help them correct themselves. Joseph has only altruistic motives, yet the brothers find his behavior problematic. They don't realize it yet, but Joseph is merely excelling at what his personality does best.

Joseph is great at being an assistant. He leaves his homeland and ends up in Egypt, a foreign land. Some immigrants find life difficult and career advancement a struggle. Joseph, though, ends up being an assistant to the prominent Potiphar, and rises to the position of managing Potiphar's entire estate.

Then, after being sent to jail, Joseph somehow becomes the warden's right hand man. Wherever he goes, whether in the aristocratic society of Potiphar or in the dungeon with criminals, Joseph rises to the top. His last appointment - as assistant to Pharaoh - is his most important.

Joseph isn't merely an assistant to others; he is an assistant to leaders, people in a position of power and authority. Leaders always need advisors and assistants. They can't get along without them. When questioned in court with simple questions, Henry Ford could not answer any of them. Finally he stated, "When I have questions that I can't answer, I hire someone who can answer them."

It's a special talent to be an assistant. It takes a lot of savvy and humility. It takes the ability to really understand the person you're assisting. Joseph had these traits and more.


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Which is more important: to be a leader, or to help the leader accomplish major things? If a CEO is disorganized and ineffective without a particular capable assistant that anticipates the CEO's potential mistakes, who is more important?

Leadership is not one generic thing. There are different types of leaders. Some instill discipline in the unruly masses; some inspire people to develop great accomplishments in music, art, and science. Joseph's greatness was in seeing what the acting leader needed in order to be great. That in itself is leadership.

Where Joseph failed initially was in not considering the people being led. He understood his father and his father's teachings perfectly. But he didn't see the enmity he was creating between himself and his brothers. Success as an assistant depends on having both a talent for understanding the leader, and a talent for understanding those being led.


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Joseph's name in Hebrew, Yosef, means to "add on." Joseph was always an addition. He was not counted with the three forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the other hand, he is often not counted as one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, either. (His children, Menashe and Ephraim, are counted as tribes.) So which is he, a forefather or a tribe? Joseph seems to be an "add-on" to the forefathers, and an add-on to the tribes. And he was an add-on, an assistant to Jacob, Potiphar, the warden, and Pharaoh.

(By the way, a name is no accident. There's a reason and a meaning behind every given name, and your name can often tell you something about your personality. To find out the meaning of your Hebrew name, click here.)

Joseph might well have failed wherever he went. He could have attempted to be the leader, instead of the leader's assistant. But he knew his own strengths and developed them. Most of us don't want to be someone else's assistant. But the more powerful the leader, the more powerful the assistant.

The greatest achievement of all would be to be a true assistant to the Infinite Being. And it so happens, there is an opening for that position, right now.


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Spiritual Exercise:

Ask yourself if you are more suited as a leader or a leader's assistant. If you find yourself positioned in the "wrong" role, what steps can you take to correct it? And how can you better develop your skills as either a leader or an assistant?

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