This Shabbat:

Friday Candle Lighting: 4:28 pm
Shabbat Ends: 5:16 pm

Torah Message:

A Man of Steel

Then Pharaoh said to Yosef, ‘Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you.” (41:39)

A few weeks ago in the Torah portion of Lech Lecha I wrote about a story I heard from my good friend and colleague, Rabbi Yitzchak Dalah. Apparently, there was a wall in a certain town square which was constantly being defaced with graffiti. The local authority had large signs put up on the wall saying, “NO GRAFFITTI!” The result was that on following day the signs were defaced with graffiti. Nothing seemed to work. Threats of fines of hundreds of dollars just brought forth more and more ornate graffiti. Someone in City Hall had a bright idea: They hired an artist to paint a beautiful mural on the wall. The result? No more graffiti.

When you show others how beautiful the world is, you elevate them, you help them to be on a higher level. You empower them.

“Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you.”

Yosef’s wisdom and discernment geared up Egypt for a devastating famine, the likes of which had never been known. To achieve the mobilization of an entire country requires a specific kind of wisdom. It is the skill of how to get people to give of their best, and the way you do that is by elevating them.

Jonathan Rosenblum wrote recently of Paul O’Neill, “who became CEO of the aluminum giant Alcoa in 1987. For nearly a century, ever since its founder invented the process for smelting aluminum, the company held a dominant position in the industry. But by the time Alcoa turned to O’Neill, it had become something of a dinosaur, as newer, leaner, more innovative companies cut sharply into its market share and profits.

“At the press conference introducing O’Neill to Wall Street investors and stock analysts, O’Neill set forth his goal for the company: To make it the safest company in America. He said not a word about business strategy or profits. When one perplexed investor asked about capital ratios and inventories in the company’s aerospace division, O’Neill replied that the questioner had not been listening. Alcoa, he reiterated, would be judged by whether it significantly lowered its number of workers injured on the job.

“One portfolio manager rushed from the meeting to advise his twenty largest clients to sell Alcoa shares, as it was clear the new CEO had no clue what he was doing. That proved to be bad advice. Over the course of O’Neill’s tenure from 1987 to 2000, the company’s share value multiplied five times, and its market capitalization increased by $27 billion.

“And, yes, its worker safety record improved dramatically. Alcoa’s rate of worker injuries dropped to one-twentieth of the national average, despite the fact that Alcoa’s industrial processes involves working with molten metal at 1,500 degrees and many huge machines that can cause injury.

“O’Neill made clear from the beginning that he was dead serious about the goal of reducing workplace accidents. He gave out his private phone number to every Alcoa worker, and invited them to call any time with complaints or suggestions. At an early meeting with senior executives he expressed his fervent belief that no one should ever have to ‘fear that feeding your family will kill you.’ And when accidents plummeted, he sent out a company-wide message: ‘We should celebrate because we are saving lives.’

“He put into place a requirement that whenever a workplace accident occurred, the plant manager had to report it within 24 hours, along with recommendations as to how to prevent a recurrence. When one of Alcoa’s senior and most successful executives failed to report that several workers had been overcome by fumes at the Mexican plant he managed (they eventually recovered), he was summarily dismissed, though he had already taken remedial action.

“And after a relatively new worker was killed while trying to repair a machine, O’Neill summoned all that plant’s top executives and Alcoa’s top officers to a meeting in the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters to review videotapes of everything leading up to the tragedy and to analyze where they had failed. Among the conclusions: the company’s training program had not sufficiently stressed that workers would not be held responsible for stoppages due to machine breakdowns. ‘I caused his death,’ O’Neill proclaimed.

“Though O’Neill had never promised that improved safety would lead to improved profits, the safety campaign helped Alcoa’s earnings directly. Duhigg [Charles Duhigg, a renowned Pulitzer Prize winning journalist – ed.] summarizes the results of the emphasis on safety first: costs went down, quality improved, and productivity skyrocketed.

“The process of pouring molten metal from huge vats was redesigned to remove the danger of spillages — but that also resulted in savings in raw materials. O’Neill instituted a rule that any machine that was breaking down regularly had to be replaced to reduce the likelihood of a broken gear snagging the arm of a worker. But that, too, paid dividends, as more efficient machines resulted in higher quality products. In short, it turned out that the same factors that made a production process unsafe also made it inefficient.

“There were indirect benefits as well. The safety campaign required that plants be able to share information rapidly to discuss what worked and what did not, and to warn of possible dangers in the production process. In order to facilitate that rapid exchange of information, Alcoa became one of the first companies to introduce a company-wide e-mail system.

“The unions, which had always resisted any productivity initiatives, stopped doing so when they saw the linkage between efficiency and safety, and when they realized that the latter was no less important to Alcoa than the former. When workers saw that their safety suggestions were taken seriously and acted upon, they began to offer suggestions in other areas as well. One worker recommended placing all the machines for painting aluminum siding in the same area of each plant to facilitate switching between colors, as customer preferences changed. The profits of the aluminum siding division doubled as a consequence. It turned out that the worker had been discussing the idea with his fellow workers for years, but had not done so with management because he did not believe anyone would pay attention to him. The response to the safety suggestions convinced him otherwise.”

“G-d was with Yosef and he became a successful man…” (39:2)

The Hebrew word for ‘successful’ in this verse is matzliach. Grammatically, the translation of “successful” is mutzlach. Matzliach is the causative voice, meaning “to cause to be successful”. Yosef’s greatest success was that he empowered others to be successful.

  • Source: heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz