April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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Yosef is sitting in prison not just for a few days or a year, but for 10 years. The Torah refers to his location as a “pit,” and thus we can imagine the sight of a dark, damp, isolated cave, with probably not the best air circulation to say the least. Who knows how much longer Yosef would sit, as hope of coming out was ostensibly highly unpredictable—perhaps more on the never-ever spectrum. But a ray of hope glimmers as Yosef sees his neighbors (the chief cupbearer and baker) are soon to be emancipated and brought before Pharaoh. Yosef grabs the opportunity, and exclaims to the chief cupbearer—“mention me to Pharoah!” Remind him that I’m here!

Who wouldn’t grab this golden opportunity? Yet, Yosef is taken to task for taking this course of action, and his stay in prison is prolonged an additional two years. What did Yosef do that was improper? Rashi (40:23) explains that since Yosef put his trust in the chief cupbearer, therefore he was bound to stay another two years. I found it interesting that Rashi doesn’t say “Hashem” extended his stay, but says “…therefore Yosef was ‘bound’ to stay another two years. Seemingly it wasn’t a punishment according to Rashi, although it surely sounds like one! What does Rashi mean?

Chovot Halevavot writes a principle in spiritual physics: When one relies on someone other than Hashem, Hashem removes His Divine Providence from him, and that person is now left in the hands of whomever he or she may be relying on. Based on this we can perhaps explain that, in fact, Yosef’s extension wasn’t a punishment, but a natural consequence that occurs when one relies on someone other than Hashem. I wondered, however: Rashi says that Yosef “had to” remain another two years, implying that it wasn’t necessarily a natural consequence, but rather that it was necessary for something. Thus, maybe we can suggest a different idea…

About two years later, Pharaoh has some wild dreams, and unrelentingly troubled by them he calls upon dream interpreters to define his dreams. None of them satisfied Pharoah, but finally the chief cupbearer tells Pharaoh that Yosef happens to be a dream interpreter. Pharaoh demands for Yosef, and the pasuk says “and they rushed him from the pit.” What is the significance of mentioning that he was “rushed” from the pit?

Furthermore, Yosef is brought to Pharaoh, and Pharoah’s like, I heard you know a thing or two about dreams, and Yosef’s like, what do I know?—Hashem is the one who offers the insight into dreams. We can ask, is this really the time for humility? OK, so it’s true everything is from Hashem, including wisdom, but isn’t this the time to show some pride about one’s abilities? Moreover, a natural response would be to please Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would be inclined to fully free Yosef from his prison sentence, yet, it seems that Yosef not only does not do that—sideswiping Pharaoh’s assumption, but even mentions “God” to Pharaoh—certainly a “hot topic”—something that very likely could have stirred up anger in Pharaoh!

R’ Yaakov Neiman explains the significance of specifying that Yosef was “rushed” out and brought to Pharaoh. Ordinarily, in such a tumultuous situation, one might lose their true principles, values and what one stands for in an effort to quickly conjure up a pleasing response to Pharaoh. Yosef’s integrity is highlighted here, showing that despite the scramble and discombobulation, he did not lose his principles but showed his confidence, loyalty and faith in Hashem, stating that it’s not me who offers insight and counsel, but Hashem. This was the right thing to do, and although by doing so Yosef was putting himself at risk [as perhaps he could’ve been sent right back to the pit possibly for life], Yosef realized that by doing the right thing, one can’t lose out no matter what may occur in the aftermath.

Yosef’s encounters with both Pharoah and the chief cupbearer feel eerily similar, and perhaps there’s a strong connection between the two: When one relies on himself or people, and leaves God out of the picture, one may feel that he will gain by taking this approach. When in prison, Yosef relied on the cupbearer, and perhaps he thought relying on people and not Hashem will bring him gains and advance his situation for the better. By extending his sentence, Hashem was perhaps showing Yosef that this approach is only detrimental: Not only one doesn’t gain, but one can potentially forgo that which may have been coming to him. Two years later Yosef comes face to face with Pharaoh, and yet again comes face to face with a very similar dilemma: to take the credit and prove himself to Pharoah, leaving God out of the picture, or to do the right thing and give God the credit, risking getting thrown right back in the pit. This time, Yosef not only does not lose out, but goes right to the top, as Pharaoh nominates him to be second in command. Maybe Yosef’s extension wasn’t a punishment in the strictest sense, nor was it a natural consequence, but rather a compassionate lesson Hashem “had to” teach to Yosef, so that in two years to come when yet again he is presented with the same struggle, he can implement what he experienced and see that when one relies totally on Hashem, one can only gain.

This emotional/spiritual tug of war can present itself in many avenues of our lives: To do what is right, and have emunah in Hashem, or try to take a detour thinking we will gain from it. These two episodes of Yosef can teach us that although we may feel there may be much to lose when doing the right thing, in truth, with God, one can only gain.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected].

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