The Makings of a Leader
Translated and adapted by Chaya Sara Ben Shachar
It's fodder for the fiction mill: The wonder-boy born with a silver-spoon in his mouth. He leaves his lavish home to lead a corrupt life in some third world country. His arch-enemy is the nice-guy who comes from a home of poverty and embarrassing plainness.
When I tried to write a story like the one above, my writing teacher told me it was too clichéd. "That story has been written one too many times," she insisted. "Think again."
The story has been written. And rewritten. And lived and relived. The juxtaposition of good derived from bad versus bad derived from good is the story of time immemorial. It's rooted in the creation of the world itself.
Adam, the first man, was created in a perfect world. Living in the Garden of Eden, he didn't have to worry about a thing. Food, perfect weather, everything was there with no effort on his part. He was given one commandment, to refrain from eating from the Tree of Life and through the trickery of a conniving snake he failed in this grand test.
The results of Adam's failure are felt until this very day. The world is imperfect. It's a jungle out there. Money is an object of concern; luxuries are difficult to come by. Illness is rampant, and death is an inescapable part of the human condition.
Just one commandment. To be fulfilled in the lap of luxury. Yet Adam was unable to withstand this test. Where does that leave us, people living way inferior lifestyles?
The answer to this question is in the juxtaposition at the end of the first book in the Torah. The story at the end of Genesis is the perfect flip side to the first story.
Yosef Hatzaddik (Joseph) had a rough childhood. Orphaned of his mother at a young age, Yosef suffered not only from her loss, but also from the jealousy of his brothers. The more that Yaakov (Jacob) showed favoritism toward this son, the more his brother's hatred toward him grew. Until they sold him as a slave and Yosef ended up in Egypt.
There, Yosef suffered pangs of longing for his father. Yet, from the depths of pain and yearning, Yosef rose to great heights. Coming up with a brilliant idea to save food in the face of an impending famine, Yosef is appointed viceroy of Egypt. His ideas save the world from going hungry. From rock bottom Yosef soars to the top of the mountain.
Yosef had every right to bemoan his fate. To hate his brothers, and to remain a slave forever. But Yosef choose not to. Instead he became a most memorable leader. Later, after reunification with his brothers, he tells them: "Indeed, you intended evil against me, [but] God designed it for good, in order to bring about what is at present to keep a great populace alive" (Genesis 50:21).
Greatness from out of the depths. The cliché of all times. The juxtaposition to Adam's life. It's the story of our nation's humble beginnings. It's the hope of all future generations.