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When a person is focused on who he is and where he has to go, he can survive and overcome almost anything that life throws his way.

This week’s Torah portion is Vayeishev (Gen. 37:1-40:23), and in it we read about Joseph and his brothers.

At one point we are told that Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers and their flocks. On his way, we are told, “…a man found him and he was lost in the field.” Joseph was lost. (He didn’t have WAZE downloaded on his IPhone.) We are told that this “man” was none other than the angel Gabriel, who then asked him, Mah tevakesh, which means, “What are you looking for?”

This Mah tevakesh is reminiscent of God’s call to Adam, Ayeka, meaning, “Where are you?” Both Mah tevakesh and Ayeka are haunting calls that demand frequent self-reflection and analysis.

Let’s put this in the perspective of Joseph. Joseph is about to go through a roller coaster of experiences, mostly negative. He is going to be taunted by his brothers, thrown into a pit and left to die, and then he’ll be temporarily rescued from the pit, only to be sold to a bunch of Arab merchants. Then he’ll be sold as a slave to Egypt and eventually accused of trying to rape the wife of one of the most powerful men in Egypt, landing him in jail, only to be free to become second in command of all of Egypt. Woah! What a roller coaster! And he’s still just a teenager!

The question is asked: How did Joseph handle all this trauma and pressure? How did he remain sane, and not, perhaps, suicidal? How was he able to resist one of the most beautiful women in Egypt? And even more important, how did he remain a loyal and observant Jew?

The secret to Joseph’s success and survival was Mah tevakesh – “What are you looking for?” The angel Gabriel was telling Joseph, “Let me teach you something. Whenever you’re lost, ask yourself what you are looking for!” This is an important message for us, at all times and at all junctions in life. We have to always ask ourselves what we are looking for, what are our goals, what do we value, and where do we want to end up.

When a person is focused on who he is where he has to go, he can survive and overcome anything that life throws his way.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

To read more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.







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