Joseph and Self Esteem - מקץ

Friday, 23 December, 2022 - 1:14 pm


Joseph and Self Esteem

No other character in the Torah experiences extreme circumstance changes, as does Joseph. He starts as the cornerstone of his home, his father's favorite son, and abruptly descends to become a slave in Egypt. If that were not enough, he is slandered by his master's wife and is imprisoned. Just as abruptly, he ascends from the lowest position in society to become the leader of Egypt, as Pharaoh told him: "besides you, no one may lift his hand or his foot in the entire land of Egypt."

What is Joseph's secret to success, remaining upbeat and loyal to his ethics, beliefs, and inner character, despite the dramatic and changing circumstances? What was the secret of his ability not only to preserve his own identity but to affect the people around him in a positive way? 

Our culture values people based on external criteria, such as physical appearance, material possessions, or professional success. Defining ourselves by these criteria, however, is never a route to healthy and enduring self-esteem and could potentially be psychologically dangerous because our circumstances and achievements are not permanent. The healthiest and most durable way of creating lasting self-esteem is by connecting to our spiritual soul, the spark of G-d within, whose value is infinite and unconditional. When we live this way, no one can diminish our self-esteem, and we experience a great sense of freedom. There is no need for validation from others. When we connect to the spiritual side of ourselves, we recognize that our value is infinite and unconditional. 

Back to Joseph.

When Joseph was rushed from prison to meet Pharaoh, the Torah states: 

So Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they rushed him from the dungeon, and he shaved and changed his clothes, and he [then] came to Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:14)

The deeper meaning of "changed his clothes" is that the circumstances of slavery and prison were "garments", they were external to his essence. Joseph did not allow those "garments" to define him. The same was true about his successes. His success in the eyes of the Egyptians was not what defined him. Joseph self-defined as someone with a Divine soul, a conduit to the Divine plan, to bring salvation, comfort, and holiness wherever he was, regardless if he was imprisoned or on the throne of Egypt.

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 35 Mikeitz Sicha 1

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