Choosing Your Attitude

December 10, 2021

A number of years ago, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l wrote a wonderfully inciteful d’var Torah on this week’s parshah, Vayigash, which highlighted Joseph’s ability to reframe his life’s struggles as purposeful experiences that led him to rise to his position as second in command of Egypt.

Rabbi Sacks’ words underscored our Jewish connection to the field of psychoanalysis, listing numerous scientists, researchers, and therapists who have contributed significant theories to the field from Freud, Kohlberg, Gardner, and many more. Rabbi Sacks also cited Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s ability to reframe his personal experience in Auschwitz as a professor doing research and practicing his expertise, as a way to reimagine his experience in the concentration camp from the victim, with no control over his life, to the professor, in complete control of the decisions and actions he was undertaking.

In fact, Rabbi Sacks draws the reader’s attention to one of Frankl’s fundamental discoveries that Frankl identifies in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is Joseph’s greatest skill in maintaining his optimism and will to move forward every time he is confronted with another struggle, another challenge, and another disappointment. In fact, when he finally reveals himself to his brothers, Joseph reframes the motivation for his journey to Egypt,

“I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. But do not be sad, nor be troubled that you sold me here, for it was Gd who sent me here before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45:4-5)

Because Joseph is willing to give up control over why something took place years before and reframe it to answer how can he make the most of where he is today, Joseph in fact gains greater control over his life and purpose.

Both Frankl, and Joseph centuries earlier, share with us an important lesson on how to live happier and more meaningful lives; that we can only control the things that are within our control, or in the words of Rabbi Sacks, “By changing the way we think about the past, we can change the future.”

As the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, I have the frequent pleasure of meeting donors who share their love and passion for the Jewish community and the Jewish agencies and organizations that serve the community. However, on occasion, I also meet someone who had a negative experience, or even no experience with the Jewish Federation, and who sees no reason to donate to the community because of their passion for the theatre, for local museums, for animals, or for any of the other thousands of worthy causes vying for their support and generosity. But what I have also learned over the years is that one of the main differences between those who donate (I prefer to use the term “invest”) in the Jewish community’s Annual Campaign and those who do not, is the ability to believe that our future Jewish community can be vibrant, engaging, and active. Those who do not believe that their contribution can make a difference rarely give, however, those who want to affect the future give generously, give often, and give with great passion. I invite you to join me and the many other wonderful “investors” in our Jewish community to help us meet our community goal.

Thank you for your support, your participation, and your generosity because we are definitely…


Shabbat shalom,