The parshah of Vayeshev marks the beginning of a series of Torah portions focused on Joseph, whom I consider among the most phenomenal personalities in the entire Torah.

Let’s review the poignant tale of Joseph and his brothers:

Jacob was blessed with a large family, and Joseph was his favorite son. In an overt display of favoritism, Jacob gifted Joseph the famous “coat of many colors.” At 17, Joseph shared two dreams with his father and brothers—visions of his family bowing down to him. These dreams further fueled his brothers’ animosity.

One day, while Joseph’s brothers were off shepherding, he was sent by their father to provide supplies. “Here comes the dreamer!”1 they remarked bitterly, after spotting him from a distance. Initially plotting to kill him, they decided instead to sell him to a passing caravan, who then sold him as a slave in Egypt.

Remarkably, his master, Potiphar, took a real liking to him and put him in charge of his household and affairs.

Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, but Joseph, aided by a vision of his father, resisted her advances. She then falsely accused Joseph and he was thrown into prison, where he languished for 12 years.

Again, Joseph rose to the top of his new environment and was put in charge of the prison. While incarcerated, he interpreted the dreams of two fellow prisoners, the royal butler and the royal baker.

His talent for dream interpretation proved pivotal when he was called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, leading to his release from prison and his appointment as viceroy, Pharaoh’s second-in-command.

Joseph played a crucial role in saving Egypt from famine and, ultimately, saved his own family, too.

What continues to strike me every year is that throughout his entire ordeal, Joseph never once expresses self-pity. Not once does he say, “Poor me!” Not once does he say, “Why me?” Not once does he say—to quote a placard I once saw on someone’s desk— “I’m having a nervous breakdown. I earned it. I deserve it, and no one has a right to take it away from me!”

If anyone had the right to have a nervous breakdown, it was Joseph. Yet, he never utters a single word of complaint.

G‑d’s Ambassador

In analyzing this story, the Rebbe highlighted a remarkable detail: While in prison, Joseph observes that the butler and the baker appear despondent. “Why are your faces looking so sad today?” he asks them.2 Do you have a problem? How can I help?

But why does Joseph care if these guys are having a bad day? They were not his friends. In fact, the Midrash teaches that these two individuals were associates of Potiphar—the very man who threw Joseph into prison!

One might have expected Joseph to harbor bitterness and resentment. Instead, he is upbeat and chipper, concerned only that two total strangers appear unhappy! Where did he get his strength?

The answer lies in his unwavering belief that G‑d was with him throughout his entire ordeal.3 He lived with the awareness that nothing happens without reason. He understood that whatever befell him—being sold into slavery, thrown into prison, or interpreting dreams for others—was orchestrated by G‑d for a reason. In every circumstance, Joseph recognized that Divine Providence places us where we are for a purpose.

If Joseph had not been sold into slavery, falsely accused, and imprisoned for years, he would have never become the viceroy, Egypt would not have survived the famine, and the Children of Israel would not have been saved.

Seeing the Opportunity

This theme resurfaces later in Joseph’s life after his father’s passing.4 When his brothers seek forgiveness for selling him into slavery, Joseph is incredulous. “Am I G‑d?” he responds. “Only G‑d can see the future. G‑d placed me here to save my life, your lives, and all of our lives. Please don’t feel bad. G‑d sent me here as a force of life before you. It’s a good thing.”

We must learn from Joseph’s example, taught the Rebbe. Despite only Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob being called our Patriarchs, the Jewish people are also referred to as the “sons of … Joseph.”5 Each of us carries a little bit of Joseph within.

And we must summon the strength, fortitude, and courage to confront any challenges that might, G‑d forbid, come our way, understanding that everything stems from G‑d and serves a Divine purpose. Rather than falling into the “Poor me!” trap, we must strive to maximize the opportunities given to us by Divine Providence.

Joseph’s Mission Statement

I distinctly recall hearing a related teaching from the Rebbe, a lesson that my friends and I thoroughly absorbed and subsequently shared whenever possible:

The very first positive commandment in the Torah, right at the beginning of Genesis, is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”6

The Rebbe explained that the first mitzvah a Jew is given is to create another Jew. This commandment encompasses both the literal act of bringing children into the world and the figurative act of reaching out to Jews who are, G‑d forbid, lost, assimilated, have forsaken or are unaware of their Jewish heritage, and guiding them back to their roots, thus “creating” another Jew.

This profound lesson is drawn from the life of Joseph—a life devoted to caring for the needs of others—and is reflected in his very name. When Joseph was born, his mother, the matriarch Rachel, called him Joseph, saying, yosef Hashem li ben acher, “May G‑d grant me an additional son.”7 On a basic level, she was expressing her deep desire for at least one more son. But Rachel’s prayer also encompassed the hope that her infant son would grow up to be a special kind of Jew—the kind that adds another Jew, someone who brings Jews back into the fold of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The kind of Jew that will find a Jew who may have strayed from the path of Torah and mitzvot and help them rediscover their way.

The Rebbe emphasized that the term acher (“other”) can refer to any person who has strayed from a life of Torah. The Talmud recounts the story of Elisha ben Abuyah, the great scholar and sage, who abandoned his studies and religion, embarking on a vastly different path. He veered so far off course that he became known as acher – “the other one” – because he turned away from his heritage.

Rachel’s prayer, as explained by the Rebbe, expresses the hope that Joseph, her son, will possess the ability to transform a wayward Jew from an “acher,” an “other one,” into a son of Torah, a follower of G‑d’s ways.

The Sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, initiated the modern concept of Jewish outreach. Aptly named Joseph, the Sixth Rebbe led a campaign to seek out wayward Jews and, with non-judgmental love, bring them back to G‑d—transforming the acher into a devoted son.

For the first 17 years of his life, Joseph studied with his father, Jacob. After that, whether in a caravan to Egypt, a slave in Potiphar's house, imprisoned with the butler and baker, standing before Pharaoh, or ruling Egypt, Joseph consistently served others, helped them, saved them, brought them into the fold, and breathed life into their very existence.

Joseph’s mission statement is one that each of us must embrace as our own.

An Army of Lamplighters

The Torah portion of Vayeshev is often read in proximity to the 19th of Kislev, the day that marks the miraculous 1798 liberation of the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, from Czarist Russian imprisonment, where he languished for 53 days. The teachings of Chassidus thrived after his release. As the old Chassidic expression goes, there is “fahr (before) Peterburg,” representing Chabad before the Alter Rebbe’s imprisonment in St. Petersburg, and “noch (after) Peterburg,” as Chassidus blossomed and flourished after the miracle of the 19th of Kislev.

Nearly 100 years later, in 1897, when the Fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, established Tomchei Temimim, a yeshivah where students would study the teachings of the Alter Rebbe, he referred to the students of his new yeshivah as “lamplighters.”

Rabbi Sholom Dovber intended to create an army of students who would serve with self-sacrifice, going out and igniting the souls of their fellow Jews, bringing them back to Judaism.

On a very personal note, I have the great merit that both of my grandfathers, my maternal grandfather, Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson, of blessed memory, as well as my paternal grandfather, Reb Yochanan Gordon, of blessed memory, studied at Tomchei Temimim in the city of Lubavitch. Both merited to establish generations of soldiers in the Rebbe’s army of lamplighters, engaged in the sacred work of “adding another son.”

When the Rebbe initiated the Mitzvah Campaigns, dispatching the “lamplighters” onto the streets to find Jews and assist them in performing a mitzvah, he emphasized a crucial point: aiding a fellow Jew should not be viewed merely as a positive, wonderful, one-time experience. Instead, we must consider the countless future generations that can be shaped by that singular act. An encounter with a “lamplighter” has the power to transform someone’s life, to impact generations to come, igniting one candle after another in an ongoing chain.

May we merit to truly incorporate these lessons from Joseph into our lives, steadfastly avoiding the victim mentality, striving to be ambassadors of G‑d in every situation. Let us all enlist in the Rebbe’s army of lamplighters, and engage in the sacred work of “adding another son,” seeking out the “acher” among us, with kindness and love, and helping them rediscover their connection to G‑d.