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    Yaakov told Yosef
    to go check on the
    welfare of his
    brothers and the
    welfare of the
    sheep and to bring
    back a report.
    [Bereishis 37:14]
    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
    these pasukim.
    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
    corrupt him.
    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
    revolutionized medicine,
    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.”