Yaakov Lieder

The Twelve Steps to Goal Setting, Yosef’s Way

In recent times, many books have been written on the subject of ‘Goal Setting’. These books explain how you can become a high achiever and succeed in today’s world.  The gist of their suggestions is: “Aim for the stars and you’ll reach the moon”.  They use examples of sports players who have won gold medals, politicians who reached positions of power, and people who have become financially successful. They use these techniques of encouraging people to emulate these success stories on a regular basis, either consciously or subconsciously, and they have been immensely successful as these books certainly sell! These books suggest that we use the sporting, business, political heroes as role models, and urge the reader to: “Do what they did, and you get the same results they got. If it worked for them, it will work for you”.

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Our Sages teach us that if you want to know whether something is good for us, examine what the Torah has to say about it. If it is good, the Torah will allow it, and if it is not, the Torah will instruct us not to do it. The Torah is called ‘Toras Chaim’, a Torah of life, so that following the ways of the Torah not only provides us with a reward in the World to Come but also guarantees a meaningful and satisfying life in this world as well.

Here is an example. In the late seventies- early eighties, there was a major shift in the role society wanted fathers to play at the time of childbirth. Until then, fathers had to wait outside the delivery room until after the baby was born. The new trend, however, claimed that it was very important for the father to be present inside the delivery room at the time of birth. The reason?  The father’s presence meant that a firm bond would be formed between father and baby right from the moment of birth.  The assumption was that by the father participating in the birth experience, a bond between the father the mother and the newborn child would be established, as they would have shared the experience of the birth.

At that time, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein a”h, along with various other Poskim, announced the following p’sak din. It read that according to Halacha it is forbidden for a husband to be present in the delivery room at the time of childbirth.

The publication of this ruling resulted in a huge outcry. – “How can the Rabbis refute what everyone in the medical field is saying?” But there were also those who argued, “Maybe times have changed. Now that doctors have discovered how important this bonding is, the Rabbis should find a way to allow it?” (Which reminds me- someone once complained to me, “who knows what we are missing out because the Rabbis are not telling us?”)

There is another very simple but unique approach.  Regardless of what the doctors were saying, the simple fact that the Torah forbade it was proof enough that it could not be any good!

Indeed, in recent years, new evidence is emerging, suggesting that it can actually be quite damaging for the relationship, if the father is in fact present in the delivery room at childbirth.

So, let’s go back to Goal Setting and see if we can get some free advice from the Torah, without having to spend millions of dollars on research, or even $25 to buy a regular ‘Goal Setting Self-help’ book.

Rule 1: Desire It

Desire is one of the highest powers of the soul, as without desire nothing would ever be achieved.  No person, who attains the state of a happy marriage, financial security, and spiritual fulfillment, does so by accident. I have never heard a principal of a school or a president of any organization say, “I can’t understand how it all happened! I just woke up one morning and I found myself here as principal or president…”

Yosef had a vision. He wanted to be in a position where he could make a difference to the world. He wanted this so strongly and thought about it so much that he even had two dreams about it.   It is for this reason that his brothers were so angry with him. They understood that what he spoke of was not merely a dream; it was a clear and strong desire, and they interpreted it to mean that he wanted to rule over them.

Rule 2: Be a Dreamer


All significant reality begins with a dream. The great achievers throughout time started their life’s journey with a dream. The definition of a dream is a vision that sounds and looks impossible when you measure it against your current stage in life and your past life’s experiences. The example of Yosef, dreaming at the age of seventeen, that one day he would be a king, regardless of current and past experiences, illustrates the powerful possibilities that can be initiated by a dream.  What you need to decide is that the “past does not equal the future” and that you are prepared to take on and accomplish something that you have never done before!

When you were a baby, you did not decide that judging by your past experiences, there was no way you would ever be able to walk. If you were to have adopted this approach, you would not be on your feet today. What did you do? You decided simply that you would go ahead and try. True, in the process, you fell a number of times, but nevertheless, you continued trying until the impossible happened, and your dream became a reality. The same method that worked then, can be applied to anything else you are prepared to dream about.

Rule 3: Be Careful Who You Share Your Goal With

In life, there are always some people around you (and you’d better find out who they are quickly if you don’t yet know) who feel that the pie called ‘Life’ is not big enough for everyone and that if you are going to have a part of it, they will be losing out.  Know one thing – don’t ever share your dreams, goals and aspirations with them. They will try to undermine you.

Because Yosef shared his dreams with his brothers, indirectly caused their hatred of him to increase. Perhaps they felt that if and when Yosef reached his goals, it would be at their expense. They would have to compromise their freedom. On the other hand, his father, Yaakov, was awaiting the fulfilment of the dream. Yaakov nonetheless reprimanded Yosef for sharing his dreams with his brothers. He knew the value of this lesson from his personal experience with his brother Eisov and from the story about the first set of brothers in the Torah, Kayin and Hevel. Jealousy, even amongst brothers, can lead to appalling destruction, as in the extreme example of the primal sin of fratricide, the murder of Hevel by Kayin.

Indeed, in the Torah, this first murder on earth was committed when there were only a few people in the world. At that time, there was more than enough of everything for everybody. Yet, Kayin still felt threatened by Hashem’s recognition of Hevel. He was convinced that this acknowledgement was taking something away from him… and it was that fear which led him to kill his own brother.

Rule 4: Picture Your Dream Accomplished

Visualize that you have already achieved your goal. You must believe in advance that you will reach your goal no matter what, because as long as you believe that success is assured, you will be sure to make the maximum effort and simcha towards achieving your goal. Effort and Simcha – these are the two most vital ingredients for success (Igrot Kodesh Yud Gimel page 280).

Yosef kept on repeating his dreams in great detail. He spoke about them in the present tense. In his mind, they were already a reality that existed firmly in the mental world; all that was left for him to do was to bring them into the physical plane.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that before the age of three he already had a clear vision in his mind of the times of Moshiach; of how the Beis Hamikdosh would look, of how the Kohanim would serve Hashem and of how all the Jews would be together in Yerushalayim. To the Rebbe, Moshiach wasn’t just a dream that would perchance happen one day. It was a reality that was simply awaiting its final appearance in the physical world.

We need to begin seeing and feeling Geulah in great detail now. Moshiach is already here; we just have to open our eyes! We have to change our way of thinking and start thinking about Moshiach as a reality. We must live with Moshiach now; because only by living with this reality will we give ourselves over completely to the task of actualizing it in this physical world.

Rule 5: Have a Plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail,” a wise man said. In order to succeed, you need a clear road map that will guide you on the best possible route to follow in achieving your goal.

Yosef appeared before Pharaoh for one reason; to interpret his dreams. He did this job very well. However, he did not stop there. He knew that in order to prevent Pharaoh’s dreams from fading away, a proper and detailed plan of action was required.

He offered Pharaoh a detailed plan as to how to deal with the upcoming seven years of abundance that would be followed by seven years of hunger. The goal was to ensure an action plan which would prepare Egypt for the hunger years. Yosef suggested a detailed plan with precise methods on how to save during the good years in order to lessen the burden of the hunger years. He also suggested a management plan that would be necessary for the plan to succeed.

Yosef knew that failing to have a plan would mean that this dream would fade, as many dreams do.

Rule 6: Work Your Plan

The Mishna tells us: “Who is a wise man? One who sees the consequences of his actions before he takes them. In other words, a smart person has a vision and a plan of action. He or she assesses the consequences of his/her actions well in advance before ever engaging in action.  The smart person draws up a precise plan of the actions necessary to achieve goals, and then the wise person gets down to work.

In other words: “They plan their work and then work their plan.”

Yosef knew he would be guilty of injustice by merely interpreting the dream and giving general advice.  He felt that another very important step was necessary, and that was to have a precise plan of action. Thus, without being asked, when he had finished interpreting the dream, he did not stop there but continued to advise Pharaoh in great detail as to the quality of good leadership and what measures were necessary for that goal to be attained.

Pharaoh was more impressed with Yosef’s precise plan than with his interpretation of the dreams. He, therefore, decided right there and then to appoint Yosef as second to the king with instructions to all his people that they must obey Yosef’s commands. The message is that if you have a good plan, and if you implement it well, you will turn a dream into a reality.

Thus, remember the value of rule number 6. Pharaoh’s reaction shows that a wise man worthy of leadership must not only be able to interpret the meaning of dreams but also needs to have a clear and workable plan to turn dreams into reality.

Rule 7: Help Others Achieve Their Goals And They Will Help You Achieve Yours

All Yosef had been asked by Pharaoh was to interpret his dreams. His interpretation was that there would be seven years of abundance of food, followed immediately by seven years of famine.  He had not been asked to provide a solution as to how to deal with the seven years of famine.  It was indeed only when Yosef helped Pharaoh achieve his goal of dealing with the famine that Pharaoh reciprocated by helping Yosef fulfil his goal of becoming a king and ruler, precisely as Yosef had dreamed 13 years earlier.

Rule 8: Don’t Abandon Your Goal: Even When The Going Gets Tough

When an aeroplane takes off, let’s say from Sydney to Los Angeles, the pilots are given a flight plan which at the time of take-off appears to be the best and the quickest way to get to Los Angeles. However, at the same time, experienced pilots know that throughout their flight they are likely to encounter some unexpected turbulence. When they encounter the turbulence, the pilot does not grab the loudspeaker and announce: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are sorry the plan is not working. We are quitting the trip to Los Angeles and returning to Sydney.”

The pilot is both determined and certain that he will land this plane in Los Angeles. Abandoning his course is not an option, neither is continuing with the original plan. The sole option is to make sensible, intelligent and rational adjustments to the original plan. These might include trying different altitudes by means of ascent or descent or maybe opting to make a detour and land at a different airport until the storm has passed.

But the most important factor is the determination to continue through -rain, hail or shine. The essential point is, “the show must go on.”

When Yosef was put in the pit by his brothers, his goal of being a king was illusionary; when he was sold as a slave and later imprisoned, with all the damning evidence stacked up against him, he could have despaired.  I can imagine if it were me, I would have said, “Forget it. Give up. You’re not cut out for success. Being successful is only for an elite group. Just stop dreaming. At least then you won’t be disappointed.”  I could also have started feeling like a victim, and cried out, “Why me?”  and then continued my lament with, “Life is sick. Life isn’t fair.”

None of these thoughts appears to have been in Yosef’s mind. Yosef was brought up by his wise rich and loving father. It is fair to believe that “slave work” was not only below his dignity but it wasn’t something he had experienced in the first seventeen years of his life. Nevertheless, as soon as he became a slave, he gave that position his best shot. Within a short time, he was recognized by his master as a man of determination and commitment. Soon he had promoted Yosef to take charge of his household. Thus, in contemporary language, in a short time, he had climbed the corporate ladder and become the general manager. It is the kind of job you don’t usually get in a short time unless your father is the president of the company!

If you allow yourself to feel a victim, or if you are having thoughts of abandoning your goals because your plans did not work out the way you wanted them to, remember the saying “winners don’t quit, and quitters don’t win’.

Rule 9: Stick To Your Morals And Beliefs At All Costs

We all face, at times, situations where our belief system seems to collide with our goals. Then the question we must ask ourselves loud and clear is which one is more important at that given time.  For example, if my friend and I are going for the same job, and only one of us will get it, would I say something bad about my friend which will enable me to reach my goal. Would I tell a small lie in my business transaction so that I can win that deal which will help me achieve my financial goal? Would I skip my Torah class today because I am too busy organizing an event?

Such dilemmas are part of day-to-day life. The Yetzer Hora may appear sometimes with a Zeidana zupitzea (a silk coat).  This means that he is trying to get us to use the wrong means to achieve the right end. His philosophy in this case appears to be acceptable or even very Torahdik. He may even argue that it is a Mitzvah to be dishonest in order that you can earn more money and thereby be able to give more tzedaka. Another example is the case where one may think that it’s a mitzvah and a very Holy thing to do, to humiliate someone just because they don’t think the way I think.  However, the truth of the matter is that the end does not justify resorting to incorrect means although it may be tempting at the time to bend principles to achieve goals. But the important point is that it is only by being firm in our value system that we are protected against the sly Yetzer Hora’s ideas and seductions.

The good news is that thousands of years ago, people have had the same experience of this reality about life and man’s behaviour and the Torah tells us their story so we can learn from previous experiences. Yosef was put to the ultimate test with Potifar’s wife. She even argued using Zeidana zupitzea’s approach, saying to Yosef, “I can see in my stars (i.e., my spiritual advice) that we are destined to have children together (Sota 48)”. There was, indeed, some truth to it but with a twist. (Some years later, Yosef married her daughter). “Nobody will ever find out,” she said. “All your goals will be scattered if you don’t do what I want”. She put enormous pressure on Yosef so that he should break his G-dly principles, offering him a better life and the fulfilment of his goals. This tempting conversation did not occur once only but took place on an ongoing basis day after day, but Yosef stuck firmly to his morals and beliefs even though he risked losing his life’s ambition.

Rule 10: Have A Positive Role Model

There is even an opinion in the Gemora that on that day when nobody was home a thought occurred to Yosef (although for a very short time) to succumb to temptation and do the wrong thing. But two things happened that made Yosef refuse the temptation. One is that he said to her, “If I do this, I will be sinning against G-d, and although nobody may ever find out, and it may bring me closer to my goals, my spiritual principles are everlasting, and totally override any other goal.  The goal of staying true to my G-d has veto power over everything else. Another source of strength, – as Rashi quotes the Gemora, “Where did Yosef get such strength from?” After all, he was only 17 or 18 when he was forcefully evicted from the Holy environment of Yaakov’s house where he was brought up. His father, mentor and teacher, Yaakov was not physically close to him.

So, the question is how come he had such strength? The answer is “Roha Diyknoy shel Oviv”. He saw his father’s image and he heard his voice: “If you go ahead and do this you are cutting yourself away from me and your name will be removed from the Choshen, where all your brothers’ names will be.” In other words, it was his powerful connection to the Tzadik Hador, which helped him at this critical point of his life.

The question we have to ask ourselves when facing a dilemma is, what would the Tzadik Hador want me to do now? Would he be proud of my decision? Is this decision in accordance with the Torah’s teachings? We, who are not as spiritually tuned-in as Yosef, have to consult a Rav, a Mashpia, to double-check if what we are doing or not doing is according to the will of Hashem and the Torah.

In the short-term Yosef’s decision to refuse to do the wrong thing got him into trouble. He was jailed for 12 years… a very high price to pay for staying true to your principles. But ultimately only because he refused to compromise his principles and therefore ended up in jail, did he eventually come to fulfil his ultimate goal of being a ruler. This would not have been achieved had he placed his goals ahead of his G-dly and spiritual values.

 Rule 11: When The Going Gets Tough, Don’t Consider Yourself Victim, Take More Effective Action

 As a wise man once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

 Being imprisoned in an Egyptian jail in our days is no holiday. How much more so in those days! Yosef had every right to feel a victim and give up. He could have adopted the attitude that life is ‘not being fair to me. I am destined to suffer. My goals will never be attained. All the evidence before me shows that not only am I not getting closer to my goals, rather, I am going in the opposite direction – from being a slave, I have now become a prisoner. How did it happen? Because I refused to do the wrong thing!’

Furthermore, while in jail, Potifar’s wife persisted in spreading bad rumours about him. She wanted him to stay in jail as long as possible so that her daughter would be old enough to marry him (as she eventually did). But Yosef decided that if he was in this place it must be for a reason. There must be a Shlichus for him to do here, and this would eventually take him to his goal.

Yosef decided there and then to give it the best shot possible and threw himself in to the task of seeing what he could do to make the life of other prisoners better. He stopped focusing on what he himself needed and started focusing on what he was needed for. And so, when the butler and the baker came to prison, and he was given the job of looking after them, he did an outstanding job. As a result of his dedication, it was indeed the last suffering he experienced before his dreams, goals and aspirations were fulfilled.

Rule 12: Be Fully Focused On The Job At Hand

Yosef decided to put his personal needs aside and he became fully focused on the job. Since excellence stands out, he was with in no time recognized by the Minister of the prison as someone different from the average prisoner. Clearly this man wanted to make a difference wherever he was, and by whatever means he could. Because of this dedication, it was only natural that when the two famous prisoners, the baker and the butler, came to jail, Yosef was the best candidate to look after them. He did this job as he had done every other job before– with total dedication, giving it his fullest attention.

One morning Yosef walked into their cell and noticed that they were not themselves. Something was bothering them. – You have to be totally without regard for your own misery and totally in tune with the other person’s situation to notice when there is something wrong. (let’s remember they were not there on a holiday).  Not looking well in an Egyptian prison is not an unusual thing. Only one with a heightened sensitivity for the feelings of others would be aware, and once aware, act.

Yosef said the following words which eventually changed the life of the butler and the baker, as well as his own life and indeed the life of the all the world.  Those words were, ‘Why do you have a sad face today? ‘To which they responded by relating their dream. This, Yosef explained to them and because of the insight and vision of his interpretation, he was recommended to Pharaoh as an interpreter of dreams. It was this that eventually led to his becoming second to the king of Egypt.

All of this was only possible because he was fully focused on the job at hand. He was fully focused on the now and not on the past or even the future.

When we review these twelve steps, we realize how each one was a part of a long chain of events, and each part was an essential step which led to the next. You could not skip any of these steps. Yosef had a difficult journey, starting with the dream and a plan, but throughout he continued, always remaining focused on the job, never stopping when there were obstacles. He kept the vision and the dream alive, always in the forefront of his mind. And when the going got tough, he asked for help and inspiration from his Rebbe. And while he waited, he continued to be fully dedicated and focused on the mission ahead.

You and I are not like Yosef, and we do not have his strength of character, but neither are we likely to end up in an Egyptian jail.  There is a Gemora which says, “According to the camel is the load” or “Hashem does not give us a test which we can not overcome.” We are all in possession of the power and the tools necessary to fulfil our dreams. And this is the reason Hashem has sent us to this world. We were given all the gifts and tools and the power to carry them out, although at times those gifts and opportunities may come, wrapped up in problems. But, once we unwrap them, we will find the gifts.

This is our Zchus, to be in the generation of Moshiach, which will bring to realization what Jews have yearned for, for thousands of years: the revelation of Moshiach now.

About the Author
Rabbi Yaakov Lieder was born in Israel and received his formal education in Israel and the United States. For the past 42 years he has been involved in many aspects of education and have held a variety of positions in Australia.