In our Parasha this week the Torah relates that Joseph asked the servants of Pharaoh who were in the prison with him “Why do your faces appear so dejected today?”
Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman (1194-1270) states that the reason the Torah relates Joseph’s assertiveness, although he was just a lowly slave, is because he had the confidence in his own capabilities, a confidence not lost by his many setbacks. What was so special about Joseph? Don’t we find many people with self confidence? There is a difference between self esteem, which consists of an accurate self assessment, and the feeling of invincibility which results from delusions of grandeur. An awareness of one’s actual strengths and capabilities is not the vanity which the Torah condemns, as personified by Pharoah and Bilam. On the contrary it is a truthful perception and as such is admirable. To deny one’s strengths is not humility but simply lying to oneself. Our sages taught, “Vanity is the result of a person feeling oneself defective, and is an attempt to compensate and cover over his defects by behaving in a grandiose manor”. Joseph is therefore praised for not losing his composure as a result of the repeated adversities he suffered, hated and sold into a life of slavery by his brothers, imprisoned for an offense he was innocent of.
Through it all he retained confidence in himself and his relationship with God.