Joseph, the abandoned, kidnapped slave-turned-prisoner finally gets his big break. Hauled out of the dungeon, he is brought in front of Pharaoh and vaunted as the one who will be able to solve the mystery of Pharaoh’s perplexing and mysterious dreams.
The pressure on him was immense. If he gets it right, he earns his freedom, but if he misses the mark, he will be consigned to life imprisonment. It is not just his reputation that is on the line here, his whole life hangs in the balance.
When Pharaoh comments that he has heard of Joseph’s reputation as a wise man and dream interpreter, Joseph says something truly remarkable. ‘This is nothing to do with me, it is God who will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare’ (Bereishit 41:16).
Joseph refuses to take the credit for anything he has done or anything he is about to do. This shocking statement could have landed him back in prison for insolence. Pharaoh has just complimented him on his talents and reputation and Joseph throws it back in his face!
Joseph, the tzaddik, righteous one teaches us a crucial life lesson. No matter who we are and what we stand to gain (or lose), our talents are not our own. They are given to us as a gift by the Almighty for a purpose.
Someone who is naturally intelligent, handsome, musical, artistic or athletic may think that they are in some way superior to others. This could not be further from the truth. We have done nothing to earn our natural talents, we cannot take the glory for them ourselves.
Joseph realises that even though his future depends on what he is about to do, he will be true to himself and true to his God. He uses his talents to the best of his ability, he successfully solves the mystery of the dreams and suggests a fiscal policy that will enable Egypt to survive the famine.
He becomes second in command to Pharaoh himself, but never forgets that his abilities are a God-given gift for him to use to help others.
Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is educational director at Jewish Futures Trust