Posts Tagged With: Joseph

Glory Days

He (Moses) said, “Show me Your glory.”

Exodus 33.18 (Shabbat Pesach)

As we are in the midst of our Passover (and Holy Week) celebrations, this Sabbath marks a special Torah reading, outside of the normal cycle of readings. We will return to Leviticus next week; this Sabbath marks a return to Exodus as we recall on the Sabbath of Passover the giving of the second set of Tablets of the Law, following the episode of the Golden Calf. After this horrific event, when Moses descended in a state of holiness from Mount Sinai, only to see his brother Aaron leading the people into apostasy, dancing around a graven, golden bull, Moses smashed the original tablets which God had personally engraved on stone tablets.

In the second giving of the Law, God instructed Moses to cut and write the 10 Commandments himself, perhaps as punishment for smashing the original Tablets. But before ascending Mount Sinai once again, Moses in his agitated state pleaded with God to show him some physical symbol of the Divine Presence, such as God’s face. To which God answered that no human could see God’s face and live. Yet, Moses still pined to see God’s glory, some showing of God’s presence.

When we read this verse in the Torah, one cannot help but think of the difference between ascribed and earned authority. Ascribed authority is given by virtue of position: a manager, rabbi or judge has ascribed authority, for example, by virtue of his or her position; it comes with the job. Earned authority, on the other hand, is not tied to position; it is given to a person by others by virtue of what one says and does. For example, in a hospital, a patient may be under the care of a doctor but it is the charge nurse who really knows the intimate status of that patient and administers care.

In the Exodus saga, neither God nor Moses started with either ascribed or earned authority; Egypt had plenty of gods and nobody, including the Israelites, knew who Moses was. It was only through the plagues and the death of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds that the Israelites finally believed in God and in Moses.

But by the time of the Golden Calf, such earned authority had disappeared and Moses needed proof once again of God’s authority. Watching God’s back pass before him while standing in a cleft in the rock was to be the proof, the pep talk as it were, that Moses needed.

There are times when we as leaders need to show our earned authority. Hopefully they are few and far between but sometimes it is necessary. For example, when we adopt a collaborative approach to decision making, there are times when we are called upon to make a final decision – and it may go against the majority vote. Personnel decisions are another area that call for both earned and ascribed leadership; we do not hire, promote or terminate based upon the decisions of our group.

So when our people cry out, “Show us your glory!”, they are asking us to take the reins of leadership and show them the way. No matter how much we want to work alongside our co-workers, we must always remember that we also have to lead them; that is our primary job. Of course that involves listening and learning from them. But just as our success depends upon them, they depend upon us for their success as well. Let’s help them exceed their expectations.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

And Happy Easter, too!

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Know Your Past

And there arose a new king in Egypt who did not know Joseph.

— Exodus 1.8 (Parashat Shemot)

The Talmud (Sotah 11a), that ancient wellspring of Jewish law and lore, suggests that this new Pharaoh was either ignorant of Joseph’s contribution to Egyptian history or willingly chose to ignore Joseph’s contributions. Either way, either by ignorance or deliberate design, the ancient Israelites were consigned to slavery and potential extermination.

Let’s look at each of these equally valid possibilities from the perspective of a leader. If the new Pharaoh truly did not know his history – and yet was fated to lead the Egyptian nation – he operated at a severe disadvantage, one that harmed him tremendously. As George Santayana said (1905),

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, Santayana (and later by none other than Sir Winston Churchill) did not believe that forgetting the past could lead to anything but tragedy; history’s victories would never be repeated in the vainglorious attempt to forget the past.

Even worse, perhaps, is the attempt to rewrite history. By choosing to forget Joseph, Pharaoh enabled Egypt to commit horrendous acts against the Israelites, such as enslavement and the death of the newborn males.In the end, this willful whitewashing also led to tragedy.

The failure to confront historical reality is a great danger for leaders, even today. In our time, we see “fake news” become real, lies that take on lives of their own and a negation of the historical American compact that pose a real threat to this democratic experiment. in the micro world of work or family, the destruction of family or work culture leads to their very unraveling, calling into question the very fabic of our society.

So rather than deny history, leaders are expected to embrace history, both good and bad, in order to learn from it and to help government, business, family and religion to progress. When we as leaders offer a bit of history – whether it be from world events or simply work or family stories – we are giving the very essence of what leaders do: embrace and transmit the historical record so that those that follow us embrace the values for which we stand.

When someone as radical and different as a Pharaoh who know not Joseph rises to power – in whatever context – all of us need to beware. This leader does not have our benefit at heart – only his. For to deny history is to exalt one’s ego; this is a situation that we as leaders cannot endure; it leads to the destruction of our enterprise. And as leaders, we have the power and the obligation to stand up to such leaders and repair the tears in the moral universe that such damage causes.

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Restraint

But Joseph could not compose himself in front of everyone who stood before him…

Genesis 45.1 (Parashat Vayiggash)

After Judah’s impassioned plea (to free Benjamin) before Joseph, the vizier of Egypt apparently lost control of his emotions. He cleared the room of his attendants and declared, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” So dumbfounded were the brothers, they could hardly answer him.

Joseph’s attendants were, perhaps, impediments to Joseph’s revelation. In fact, three of the greatest Jewish Biblical commentators weighed in on this passage – with very different but equally valid interpretations.

Rashi, the premier Jewish Biblical and Talmudic commentator, stated that Joseph was ready to reveal himself but he could not embarrass his brothers by announcing his identity in front of bystanders. In other words, he was concerned for his brothers’ privacy; Rashi knew from the rabbis of the Talmud that embarrassing a person in public was the gravest of sins.

Rashbam, who followed Rashi, stated that Joseph was concerned instead with his own image. He did want want to show undue emotion in front of this attendants and thereby lose his source of authority.

Finally, the Ramban, a medieval Spanish commentator,  reversed this thinking and wrote that Joseph’s attendants joined the brothers in pleading for Benjamin’s freedom. Joseph could not resist their combined efforts and summarily dismissed his attendants.

So which one is right? All of them! Such is the nature of Jewish commentary in that any opinion is a valid as another, provided that opinion is grounded in Torah.But each commentator also provides us with three different ways to look at leadership.

Rashi implies that the welfare of Josephs’ brothers is paramount. We can translate that thought into the modern axiom of putting employees first. Were this Joseph, Inc., I would presume that there would be little to no employee turnover.

Rashbam treats Joseph in a harsher way. He leaves us with the thought that Joseph put his image above everything else. By removing personal feelings from his leadership style, Rashbam implies that this was a real hindrance to Joseph’s success as a leader.

Finally, Ramban informs us that Joseph actually took advice, not just from his brothers but also from his attendants, those who worked with Joseph on a daily basis. In today’s parlance, this would be called collaborative leadership, giving everyone a voice before making a final decision. By working in this way, everyone around Joseph would feel that he was a stakeholder in the decision; even if he did not agree with it, his voice was heard.

So where do each of us stand on this tripod of leadership styles? Granted, there are many more variations of leadership styles but for now, consider the employee welfare model of Rashi, Rashbam’s “me first” leadership style of Ramban’s collaborative leadership. Perhaps we embody parts of several styles, including those not mentioned here, but hopefully we see ourselves in these analyses.

So the fun of studying Bible is that we can find ourselves in every story; we just have to look at the story and then look in the mirror. This week, we discovered varying leadership styles and confronted our own leadership roles. As we go through the Torah, we will continue to learn from our ancestors – and learn about ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Dreamweavers

So Pharaoh sent for and summoned Joseph…

Genesis 41.14 (Parashat Mikketz)

One of my absolute favorite musicals is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s first production, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Many of us might remember the Donnie Osmond version, immortalized on Broadway and in a film production. I think I have seen it about 50 times – as well as having seen several stage productions.

While Sir Andrew takes many liberties with the Biblical text, i cannot help but smile every time the musical comes to introducing Pharaoh, a king portrayed by an Elvis impersonator! With its seemingly endless changes of musical styles, from French cafes to reggae, Joseph’s encounter with Pharaoh is pure Elvis, rocking and rolling – even down to the hairdo! After all, Pharaoh is the original King.

Pharaoh narrates his dreams to Joseph in true rockabilly style and then Joseph, in his trademark trope, interprets these dreams – and worms his way into Pharaoh’s inner circle at the same time. Both in the musical and in the original text, Joseph seizes the opportunity to escape prison and become “Pharaoh’s Number Two.”

While we usually admire Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams – as well as admire his ambition – we often overlook what Pharaoh did in order to have his dreams interpreted. First, he went to his courtiers, who could not help him. Then, the Chief Cupbearer, who had been imprisoned with Joseph (and had certainly benefited from a private session with him) suggested that Pharaoh spring Joseph from prison in order to bring order to Pharaoh’s sleepy time chaos.

What matters here is that Pharaoh sought and received advice. This is the mark of a true leader; he is not afraid to take and act upon what others suggest to him. To be clear, while Pharaoh undoubtedly remained Egypt’s sole decision-maker, by relying on his advisors – and even upon a jailed Hebrew slave – he managed to keep Egypt a great power as the famine approached and then descended upon Egypt. This willingness to take Joseph’s advice was his most admirable trait.

So as we aspire to leadership – and become leaders – it behooves us to follow Pharaoh’s example and seek out proper advice. Once we receive and act upon this advice, this collaboration will make us even more successful in our respective missions. Remember: if Pharaoh and Joseph could make a great team, we can create a great team as well. All it takes is a willingness to collaborate – and a dream.

“Any dream will do.”

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A Face of Many Colors

But Israel loved Joseph more than all his brothers for he was the son of his (Jacob’s) old age. And he made him a colored cotton garment.

— Genesis 37. 3 (Parashat Vayeishev)

A father should not single out one child among his others.

— Talmud Shabbat 10b

Jealousy takes many forms – but rarely is it more intense than during a sibling rivalry. Throughout Genesis, a recurring theme is the struggle between brothers – and even sisters: Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau and even Leah and Rachel. So when it comes to the generation of Joseph, we should have expected an virulent form of sibling rivalry; we definitely found it.

A second recurring theme in Genesis is parental favoritism. Abraham, due to Sarah’s insistence, banished Ishmael in favor of Isaac; Isaac favored Esau while Rebecca favored Jacob and now Jacob favored Joseph. Again, this favoritism fueled the intense sibling rivalry between Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph, of course, told tales about his brothers, wore a fancy coat, commonly called the “coat of many colors”, lorded dreams over his family and did not shepherd the herd as sons were expected to do. Like his mother, he was a homebody, protected by his father from the rigors of the fields.

As leaders (and as parents), we should know better. We know that favoritism in the workplace is destructive. When a leader openly shows preference for one – or a small group – of workers over others, the entire workplace suffers.

For example, if a sales team is dependent upon outside leads, the team leader might have great power over who has the opportunity to make money. Assigning leads, while the function of a sales manager, often has the perception – if not the presence – of favoritism. While it might be a legitimate policy that the top sellers get the best leads, when struggling or new team members are denied the opportunity to succeed, the entire team might fall apart as the manager will have to spend needless time recruiting and training new salespeople, morale (and consequently sales) will decline and the entire operation (including the manager’s job) is put at risk.

In the larger world, favoritism in promotions, in job assignments (e.g., who gets to spend a month working in Hawaii on the company’s dime?) and especially in compensation can wreck a company. It is up to the leader to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and has equal opportunity to succeed.

So, unlike Jacob, whom the Bible openly accuses of favoritism, we as leaders and parents can inspire honesty, increase morale as well as attract and retain quality workers by putting forth objective criteria for success. Even if we do have our favorites, we still have to put our personal feelings aside for the good of the organization. When Jacob failed to do this, he lost his child for 20 years.

We can do better.

Shabbat Shalom!

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STAND UP TO THE ARCHERS

Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring, its branches run over a wall. Archers bitterly assailed  him; they shot at him and harried him. Yet his bow stayed taut, and his arms were mad efirm by the hands of the Mighty one of Jacob – there the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel – the God of your father who helps you, and Shaddai who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches below, blessings of the breast and womb. The blessings of your father surpass the blessings of my ancestors, to the utmost bounds of the eternal hills, May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the elect of his brothers.

— Genesis 49.22-26 (Parashat Vayechi)

Joseph’s bow held firm. While the archers took aim at him, Joseph held steady; he did not flinch and emerged victorious, a prince among men.

In this poetic farewell address found inthe final Torah portion of the Book of Genesis, Jacob lauds his son Joseph for his fortitude, his strength in standing up to his foes, especially his brothers, who slung their proverbial arrows at him. But instead of wounding him, these arrows only made Joseph stronger; they gave him the strength and courage to press forward, to rise to every challenge placed before him and ultimately, to prevail. With the help of God, Joseph’s bow stood firm and he succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations for him.

It is often easier to sit on the sidelines, to be silent or, even  sling our own arrows at others, criticizing from afar, refusing to offer solutions to problems. And indeed, it is far easier to complain than it is to contribute. But as servant-leaders, we must accept the fact that we will inevitably expose ourselves to the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism on an almost constant basis; learning how to handle such criticism is vital in order for us to succeed.

This is why it is critical that we develop, in concert with our team, a common sense of mission. Whenever we are on the receiving end of criticism, we can ask ourselves if the criticism means that we are acting in conflict with our mission. If so, the criticism is justified; we should work with that person to fix the problem, openly and gratefully. But if the criticism is in conflict with our mission, as servant-leaders we must find a way to defuse the situation, either by refuting the criticism (especially if it is minor), accommodating the aggrieved party if that will help us in the long run or dealing with the problem directly so that we can all refocus on our mission as quickly as possible.

Say our mission is to provide world-class customer service in order to maximize profits. We then manage to keep our customers on hold for 30 minutes while because we cannot find their records in our system. This is a legitimate criticism and, in keeping with our mission, we as servant-leaders are obligated to fix this problem. But if the criticism is that we as servant-leaders do not allow an extra break for our telemarketing team, than perhaps the reason for refusing the request (and being criticized for it) is because that request was in conflict with our mission; we servant-leaders probably think that three breaks plus lunch is enough. So perhaps that fourth break could be an early release on a Friday for meeting increased production targets – an positive answer in keeping with the mission.

Every public figure – clergy, business leader, politician, etc. – will be pierced by arrows at some point. The job of such servant-leaders is to minimize the pain, patch up the wounds and continue to move forward, guided by mission and bringing as many people as possible on the journey. If we do so, than we will be successful. Let us then emulate Joseph, who certainly succeeded against all odds and rose from a dry well to run the greatest empire of his day.

Rabbi Jordan Parr is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Odessa, TX. The opinions expressed here are his own. Rabbi Parr is available for speaking engagements at rabbiparr@gmail.com.

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TWO SOULS

In our list of those who descended into Egypt, Joseph’s children are not named. While they were born in Egypt, still we would have assumed that the Torah would have listed them. Instead, they are called “Joseph’s souls.” There is a reason for this.

Dan’s sons: Hushim. Naphtali’s sons: Jahzeel, Guni, Jezer and Shillem. These are the sons of Bilhah whom Laban had given to Rachel his daughter. She bore these to Jacob, seven souls in all. All the people coming with Jacob to Egypt – his own descendants, aside from the wives of Jacob’s sons – were 66 souls in all. And Joesph’s sons born to him in Egypt were two souls. All the souls in Jacob’s household who came to Egypt were seventy.

Genesis 46. 23-27 (Parashat Vayigash)

So once again we are in the midst of genealogies. It is the one thing in which Genesis abounds. As Jacob’s children prepared to enter the Land of Goshen, the Torah tells us just who those children were. So this listing is, in fact, quite important.

But it would seem on the surface that there would be no need to mention Joseph’s children at all! They were not born in the Land of Canaan and certainly were not going to live with their uncles and cousins in Goshen; they would be staying in the palace with their father. In fact, the Torah does not mention Ephraim and Manasseh here by name, just that they were two souls. Here, they were really just placeholders, helping to get the Torah to the magical number of 70.

But we can interpret this passage another way: what if Joseph himself possessed two souls? What if Joseph possessed an Israelite, religious, soul and also a more secular, Egyptian soul? After all, he had lived as an Egyptian for decades, even to the point where his brothers has not recognized him as one of their own. He spoke Egyptian, dressed as an Egyptian, had married an Egyptian, and even ate like an Egyptian (although the Egyptians would not eat with him). Yet, deep in his heart, he remained a Hebrew, an Israelite, devoted to his father and faithful to his God.

How Joseph navigated the challenge of being a stranger in a strange land is a challenge that all of us face as well, Jewish or not. All of us struggle to balance faith, family and work on a constant basis. It is a delicate triangle; if it angles too far in any one direction, we run the risk of sliding off the edge and into the great abyss.

Of course, we could at any time choose to flatten that triangle into a line by eliminating one of the three cardinal points: faith, family or work. We could, for example, abandon our families. But then our lives would just be linear. This, by the way, is my concern with atheists; without that third point called faith, there is no fulcrum to their lives. Reason is not a reasonable substitute.

As servant-leaders, we choose the angles of our personal triangles, how we choose to balance faith, family and work. But we cannot choose to flatten the triangle and eliminate one of the points. We may choose to be single – but we still have a family of origin which we acknowledge and embrace. We may be retired – but we have a legacy of work upon which we draw inspiration and authority. Or we may be of little faith – but it is faith nonetheless, and our leadership emanates and is manifest elsewhere.

And as servant-leaders, the angles of our triangle always add up to 180 degrees; they are always in alignment. And so, they are the models for others who are scampering up and down our triangles, attempting to learn from us and draw wisdom from our example.

So, like Joseph, let us be of two souls: an outer, worldly soul that determines how we interact with the world and also an inner, contemplative soul that draws strength from and communicates with the Power above. For when they are in balance, we – like Joseph – can literally change the course of history.

Rabbi Jordan Parr is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Odessa, TX. The opinions expressed in this article are his own. Rabbi Parr is available for speaking engagements at rabbiparr@gmail.com.

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TAKE THE INITIATIVE

Happy Hanukkah!!!

We cannot sit back and wait for others to solve problems that we know exist. Neither can we let problems fester when they affect us, our team or our community in a negative way. When we take the initiative, good things will happen – and soon!

Judah said to Israel, his father, “Send the lad with me and let us stand up and go so that we might live and not die – us, you and our children. I will guarantee him with my own hand, you can demand it of me; if I do not bring him back to you and stand before you then I have sinned before you for all time.” Then Israel their father replied to them, “If so, then do this. Take the fruit of the land and go down to the man as a tribute – a little balsam, a little honey,, wax, lotus, nuts and almonds. And take a double portion of silver with you as well as the money returned to you in your baggage from you last journey. Perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brothers and rise up and return to that man and may El Shaddai give you mercy before that man so that he may release to you your brothers as well as Benjamin. And I, if I am bereaved, I will be bereaved.”

Judah found himself in terrible straits. Joseph had taken Simeon and Levi hostage in Egypt. Judah knew that he could not procure additional grain to feed his family unless he brought Benjamin to Egypt to appease Joseph. Of course, bringing Benjamin before his disguised brother ran the risk of driving his father to his grave should anything happen to Benjamin.

Yet, there was no choice; the famine was so severe and Judah had  to take this risk. He had to risk his brother’s life, his father’s well-being and his own life in order to save his family. He did not know what awaited him in Egypt yet he took the initiative and left to see the powerful Prime Minister, the hidden Joseph.

We do not have to wait for desperate times in order to emulate Judah. We can act now to make our lives and that of our families, our congregations and our organizations better. We can see that when we take the initiative in life, good things will happen – and fast!  As servant-leaders, we cannot wait for events to come to us; to be effective, we must lead and control events to the best of our abilities.

Stuff happens and often we can control our reaction to it. For example, an employee is habitually late for work. We can tolerate her tardiness and just laugh it off or we can count up the missed time and realize how much we lose in productivity and team morale by tolerating this behavior. Either way, we are reacting to missed time instead of controlling the situation.

Let me elaborate on this example. The bane of a sales person’s existence is getting on the phone and making “cold calls”, going down a list of names and trying to convince people to become interested in the product. Most often, the call is met with a busy signal, a voicemail or a wrong number message. Only rarely does a sales person talk to a live lead. And it is even rarer that the lead agrees to an appointment. Consequently, a sales person often makes over 100 cold calls in order to gain one appointment. It sounds dreary (and it is!) but it really takes only an hour to make 100 calls due to so many calls going unanswered.

So if a salesperson is regularly 30 minutes late to work, that means he or she misses an opportunity to make the equivalent of 50 cold calls daily – or setting 2-3 appointments per week. Two – three weekly appointments often translate to one sale. On an annual basis, this means that being 30 minutes late costs the sales person – and the team – almost 50 sales a year. Think of the lost opportunities to serve people – and the lost revenue!

We could use the same analogy if we greet people as they entered the door of our store – or house of worship; it does not matter. As servant-leaders, however, we can control an event such as this one by making one of two decisions: 1) we can tolerate the behavior and risk decreased sales and friction on the team or 2) coach the person to arrive on time. And if Solution #2 does not work, then it’s time to make a personnel change for the good of the team.

So Judah teaches us that it’s not only how we control events that is important; it is how we control our reaction to events that matters. After all, the Israelites could have starved to death; that was an option.

But then we would never have wound up in Egypt! Judah seized the initiative and found a way to feed his family while protecting Jacob and Benjamin: he offered himself as a hostage if necessary. While I would not recommend this course of action today, it turned out to be a life altering decision for him, his family and for the entire Jewish people as it set the stage for the descent into Egypt and the eventual liberation from slavery under God and Moses.

Not bad for a man who was just trying to survive a drought.

Rabbi Jordan Parr is the spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Odessa, TX. The opinions expressed in this blog are his. Rabbi Parr is available for speaking engagements at rabbiparr@gmail.com.

 

Coming soon: Lessons in Biblical Leadership – The Podcast!!! Stay tuned for details.

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