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Parshas Vayechi 5760

Outline Vol. 4, # 1

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Perceiving People

In the initial stories of Dovid Hamelech (King David), no one imagined that he was fit to be king. Even the prophet, Shmuel HaNovi, did not consider the possibility. Only the direct command of Hashem caused Shmuel to reconsider his first impression. What held Dovid back from recognition? The false perception that others had of him.

Yosef was relegated to slavery. Slowly, his master came to the realization that the "slave" deserved to be the master... Later, Yosef was confined to the dungeon, until the warden realized that the prisoner was fit to be in control of the criminals. There he remained, until Pharaoh realized that this "prisoner" actually deserved to be ruler of the kingdom...

Flawed Perception and Repercussion

Our perceptions of people are, by necessity, flawed. We assess people by what we see of them -- their status, actions and behavior. However, people are not limited by their past and present social status, or their behavior. The human potential is vast, nearly infinite.

If we understood the repercussions of assessments we make of people, we would see the foolishness of labeling. You can harm another person by creating and maintaining your flawed perception of him. However, the harm to yourself is even greater: Your foolish perception of people limits the relationship you might have enjoyed with them.

Realizing Opportunity

Pharaoh saw that Yosef had immense capabilities. Allowing Yosef to pursue his potential would be for everyone’s best interest, so there was no justification for maintaining the perception that others had had of him. By showing the Egyptians that their assessment of Yosef was flawed, Pharaoh realized an amazing opportunity.

The brothers who sold Yosef, had found justification for their actions. Even when they came to regret what they had done, it was the uncaring and brutal treatment which grieved them, more than the sale itself.


Suddenly, after many years, Yosef revealed himself to the brothers. They were shocked into complete silence. Although they had found justification for their actions, the thought that Yosef had actually achieved dominion over them, threw them into confusion. They were going through a mental shift -- their concepts and perceptions were thrown into total disorder. The confusion was the result of the sudden recognition that their perception of their brother had been completely off-base.


When we criticize a fellow worker, we are really criticizing ourselves. The fact that the person has made mistakes, even multiple mistakes, does not warrant that he should be held back for eternity. Our diagnosis, however, may have a much more lasting effect, by branding the man incompetent for life. In reality, all that we are spreading is the evidence of our own incompetence at helping the person.

Just as we must strive for personal improvement, we must strive to help our friends and acquaintances free themselves from their inadequacies. Just as we must never give up hope for ourselves, we mustn't give up hope for another person's redemption. When we speak derogatory words about another person, we only point out our own failure as a human being.

"Anyone who tells of his friend’s blemish, is himself blemished..." Talmud, Kiddushin.

Waiting for Opportunity

Yosef could have complained about his hardships. He would have had justification for blaming his brothers. Such an attitude, however, would have entailed the abandonment of his personal responsibility to help. One of the greatest trials is for a victim to overlook the harm he received, and, instead, to seek the betterment of the wrongdoer. There is so much complaining today, because everyone sees himself as a victim. Yosef, however, displayed infinite patience. By acting slowly, deliberately, he was able to gradually eradicate the cause of the crime committed against him. He acted not as a passive victim, but as a catalyst.

Reproachful speech shatters loyalty, destroys relationships. When you speak derogatorily about the fellow worker, no one in the office can trust you anymore. Having spoken without discretion, you have shown that you are not concerned about others' reputations. It is your own lack of vision that has left you bitter and complaining. With a positive attitude, a dynamic personality will show himself resilient, unscarred by the hardships of life, ready to pounce on new opportunities.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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