24 Nov PARSHAS VAYEISHEV “MAH TEVAKESH”: KEEPING FOCUSED ON ONE’S GOAL IN LIFE
Yaakov told Yosef
to go check on the
welfare of his
brothers and the
welfare of the
sheep and to bring
back a report.
This was a mission that changed more
than just the life of Yosef and his brothers. Indeed, it changed the entire history
of the Jewish people.
The pasukim [verses] say: “A man found
him and he was wandering in the field
and the man asked him what he was
seeking (Mah Tevakesh?). Yosef responded ‘It is my brothers that I seek,
please tell me where they are pasturing.’”
[Bereishis 37:15-16] The man gave Yosef directions to his brothers, Yosef went
to find them, and the rest is history.
This all constitutes the “p’shuto shel mikra” [simple reading of the verses]. What
follows is not the “p’shuto shel mikra”
but rather is the “drush” [homiletic interpretation] that the Kotzker Rebbe (Rav
Menachem Mendel of Kotzk) saw in
First the pasuk says, “A man found him.”
The Medrash Tanchuma states that the
“man” is t he Angel Gavriel as we find
the Angel Gavriel referred to as “the
man” in the book of Daniel [9:21].
Next the pasuk says, “And he was wandering in the field.” This is a metaphor
for man and his life on earth. People often do nothing more in their lives than
wandering and searching. They are
seemingly lost and don’t know in which
direction to go.
Finally, the pasuk says, “And the man
asked him what he was seeking.” The
Angel Gavriel told Yosef: “Listen well,
Yosef. You are about to embark on one of
the greatest odysseys in the history of
mankind. You are going to be thrown
into a pit. You are going to be taken down
to Egypt. You are going to be sold into
slavery. You are going to be falsely accused. You are going to spend time in a
dungeon. Then you are going to be taken
out of the dungeon and become the viceroy in Egypt. In your lifetime, you are
going to experience the greatest heights
and the greatest depths. What is the key
to success under those circumstanc es?
The key is to remember one thing: ‘Mah
Tevakesh?’ You always have to be focused on what you want to accomplish in
life (what is it you seek?).”
If a person focuses on what he wants,
then no matter what happens to him in
his lifetime – whether be it the greatest
troubles or the greatest success – nothing
will ever spoil him. Nothing will ever
Yosef the righteous, despite all that happened to him, did stay focused. He was
never corrupted. When people endure
terrible troubles and ask themselves
“Why is this happening to me?” they are
many times tempted to throw in the towel. One’s natural inclination might be to
give up and forsake his religion under
those circumstances. “Why do I need
On the other hand, when people meet
with undreamed of success, they also
tend to forget where they came from.
“Yosef”, the Angel said, “I am telling
you two words. Remember these two
words: ‘Mah Tevakesh.’ Keep what you
are seeking in focus. If you hold to that
goal, nothing will ever corrupt you.”
Many times, we meet people who are
very successful. We ask ourselves what
made them so successful. Why are some
people successful and others not so successful? We tend to say that the key to
success is brains, talent, luck or some
combination of them. This insight of the
Kotzker Rebbe is teaching that the main
ingredient to success in life is FOCUS. A
person will usually be successful if he has a goal and
he keeps to that goal and
never loses sight of that
Rabbi Yaakov Luban once
illustrated this idea by referencing the physical phenomenon of laser beams.
Lasers have revolutionized the world. They have
technology, and defense.
A laser is basically a beam
of light that is focused to a
high degree that increases
its power to such an extent
that it can even cut through
a diamond. Such a laser might use about
15 watts of electricity. The distinction between laser light and ordinary light is that
laser light is focused and regular light is
diffused. This metaphor is a metaphor for
success in life as well. This applies not
only to material and monetary success; it
applies to spiritual success as well.
If a person knows what he wants, is committed to what he wants and can always
maintain the focus to achieve what he
wants then he can undergo the trials and
tribulations of a Yosef and can still come
out on top.
This is the message that the Angel Gavriel gave Yosef. All of us wander on this
world. We do not know where to turn and
what to do. The basic solution to this uncertainty is to focus on “Mah Tevakesh”
– that which we want to achieve in life.
The Drasha Addressed to Napoleon
Yosef found himself in the dungeon together with Pharaoh’s wine butler (Sar
HaMashkim). He interpreted for him his
dream: “The three clusters are three days.
In another three days Pharaoh will lift up
your head and will restore you to your
post and you will place Pharaoh’s cup in
his hand as was the former practice when
you were his cupbearer.” [Bereishis 40:
Yosef then added the following words:
“If only you would think of me (ki im
zechartani) with yourself when he benefits you, and you will do me a kindness, if
you please, and mention me to Pharaoh,
then you would get me out of this building.” [Beresis 40:14].
The words “ki im zechartani” give the
impression that Yosef is giving this
dream interpretation SO THAT the Sar
HaMashkim should remember Yosef to
Pharaoh. This additional statement, introduced by the words “ki im zechartani,” seems like a somewhat inappropriate insertion by Yosef. They are not part
of the dream.
We would unde rstand if Yosef appended
a personal request for a favor to his interpretation of the dream and would have
said, “By the way, I would appreciate it
if…” However, this is not the way Yosef
expressed it. Yosef makes it sound like
the Wine Butler is getting out of jail SO
THAT he will be able to intervene with
Pharaoh in gaining Yosef’s release from
Rav Yaakov Moshe Kalefsky, zt”l, once
told me the following incident. When
Napoleon had achieved one of his major
military victories, he threw a party and
asked all the assembled to say a toast.
Everyone got up and said a few words
but they left Napoleon unsatisfied. Napoleon had a close connection with the
Jews. He knew that in this town there
was a Rabbi. He told his servant to go
summon the Rabbi to the party to say a
few words on the occasion of his victory.
The Rabbi was awakened in the middle
of the night by Napoleon’s servant and
was brought in the chariot of the king to
the banquet. Napoleon requested that he
give a speech — on the spot — in honor
of the occasion.
What does a Rabbi know from politics?
What does a Rabbi know from military
campaigns? But a Rabbi knows the Parsha of the week. It happened to be Parshas Vayeshev. The Rabbi explained to
Napoleon “pshat” (the simple interpretation) of the above-cited pasuk.
The Rabbi said that when a simple person commits a crime and is indicted,
prosecuted, and convicted of the crime,
he can always appeal. But when an important person commits a crime and is
indicted and prosecuted then his chances
of appeal are far less. Why is that? In
those corrupt times, the only people prosecuted were the downtrodden in society.
The legal system did not start up with the
elite of society. They only started up with
those who could not defend themselves.
If they are already indicting and prosecuting and convicting an important person, they must have the goods on him so
badly that it was simply impossible to
look the oth er way. The person must be
as guilty as sin. Appeals will be worthless. If he were not guilty, they would not
have started up with him in the first
place. But sometimes, even for an important person, an appeal can help.
But what happens if a minister in the
government is indicted and convicted?
What are his chances that he
can appeal and be successful? Slim to none. Governments are hesitant to uncover their own corruption. If
they are already prosecuting
and convicting him he must
be so guilty that appeals will
have virtually no chance of
For a minister who was convicted to be returned to the
same position of power that
he previously held is literally impossible. This never
Yosef spelled this out to the
Sar HaMashkim. “Listen,
you were guilty. You were convicted and
you served time. But you are going to be
restored to your original position and
serve wine to the king again. That is miraculous. It can only be happening for
one reason – s o that you will be able to
remember me to the king. The Almighty
wants to use you as the instrument for my
release from prison.”
In other words the “ki im zechartani” [so
that you mention me…] is indeed part of
the explanation of the dream. This is the
only reason that such a thing can happen.
The Rabbi then turned to Napoleon
Bonaparte, Emperor of France, and said:
“Napoleon you have met military success the likes of which have not been
seen since Alexander the Great. Why did
you merit such success? You have merited it because you have been good to the
Jews. You have extended freedoms to
them that they never had in Europe. That
is why all these successes have come
your way. Whenever you are blessed
with success, now and in the future, you
should remember: ‘ki im zechartani’ – it
is only because you have been good to
the Jews in the past and so that you can
be good to the Jews in the future.”