Friday, December 14, 2012

Yosef's reward of two extra years in prison

HaKsav v'HaKabbalah points out the grammatical difficulty in the language of "zichartani itcha" used by Yosef in last week's parsha in asking to be remembered by the Sar HaMashkim.  "Zichartani" is a statement of fact, a description; it is not a command, like "z'chor."  We also never find the word "itcha" used in connection with remembering.  It goes without saying that the person being remembered is with, or in the mind, of the one doing the remembering.  

HaKsav v'HaKabbalah creatively explains (al pi peshuto shel mikra) that these words of Yosef were a continuation of Yosef's interpretation of the Sar HaMashkim's dream.  Unlike the Sar HaOfim who saw completed baskets of bread in his dream, the Sar HaMashkim saw the growth and flourishing of the vine and grapes and the process of squeezing those grapes to produce wine.  Yosef told the Sar HaMashkim that the three days and his serving of the wine portended his being restored to his former position; however, there was more to the dream than that.  "Zichartani itcha" -- "I have been remembered with you" -- "My future," said Yosef, "Has been foretold in that same dream along with yours."  Yosef unders
tood that the vision of wine production was meant for him.  He was the vine that, despite the bleakness of the situation, would flourish; he was the grape that would be pressed by difficulty and hardship, and as a result, produce within the most wonderful wine.  Yosef was not asking; he was telling the Sar HaMashkim that since they were together in the same dream their fates were somehow bound, and through him Yosef would eventually escape from prison.

The Midrash comments that the pasuk, "Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho," refers to Yosef, who exemplified the trait of bitachon.  Yet in the very next line the Midrash continues and comments on the continuation of the pasuk, "V'lo panah el rehavim,"
that this too refers to Yosef, as he was punished for relying on help from the Sar HaMashkim rather than Hashem alone and was kept in prison by Hashem for an additional two years.  A stira minei u'bei!  How are we to make sense of it?

Let me introduce the Sefas Emes' explanation with an analogy.  Chazal tell us that Hashem does not let a tzadik unwittingly commit an aveira that he would otherwise avoid.  If, for example, there was some kashrus problem (according to Rishonim the rule applies particularly by ma'achalos asuros) on the food you were about to serve a tzadik you might end up dropping the plate, or something else would occur to prevent him from eating from that food.  An ordinary person who otherwise occasionally might fall victim to temptation does not merit such protection; he/she might be served the same meal and eat heartily without anything happening.  The tzadik's missing that meal is not a punishment; to the contrary, it's a sign of special Diving protection.

Yosef of course knew that his deliverance was in Hashem's hands alone, but he also understood that there was a message for him in the Sar HaMashkim's dream -- "zichartani itcha.[The Midrash, unlike HaKsav v'HaKabbalah, reads this as a command, but there is no reason to reject HaKsav v'HaKabbalah's suggestion that Yosef was motivated by his understanding of the Sar HaMashkim's dream rather than his own initiative.]  
Yosef mistakenly thought that that message to him was a call to action; he thought he was being told to ask the Sar HaMashkim to remember him and help engineer his freedom.  Is it not a hallmark of Yosef's character to act on what he believes to be prophetic revalation within dreams?

Yet Yosef was mistaken.  Deliverance through the Sar HaMashkim, through natural means, by Hashem acting through intermedaries to  bring about his plans in the world,
would have been a step down in level for Yosef, whose entire life, as that of Ya'akov, was directly guided by Hashem.  Rather than let Yosef fall victim to his own misinterpretation of the situation, Hashem stepped in to correct it.  Davka because Yosef otherwise exemplified the highest level of bitachon did he merit Hashem's protection from falling from that level.  Hashem had to extend Yosef's prison stay for two years not as a punishment, but as a means to ensuring that the Sar HaMashkim would indeed forget Yosef, not act on his behalf, and ensure that Yosef would merit redemption through Hashem's hashgacha alone.

"Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho" -- shouldn't the pasuk say "sam b'Hashem,"  trust *in* Hashem?   Based on the Sefas Emes the pasuk makes perfect sense.  It is not Yosef who trusted in Hashem that is the subject of the pasuk, but rather the subject is Hashem, who arranged things in such a way to ensure Yosef's bitachon was preserved.

What of Yosef's dreams about his brothers and father?  Are we to interpret Yosef's actions in relation to his brothers as an effort to engineer fulfillment of those dreams, even if his actions may have hurt them in the process and even if he might have alleviated his father's pain sooner by sending for him immediately?  Or is Yosef himself a passive actor in a drama engineered by Hashem to bring Ya'akov into galusPerhaps the two years in prison that Yosef spends that introduce our parsha are a warningOverzealousness in appealing to the Sar
HaMashkim based on his interpretation of his dreams cost Yosef two extra years in prison; who knows what the cost would be of being overzealous in trying to bring his brothers to bow before him?  Or perhaps, as the approach of the Sefas Emes suggests, those two years were a sign to Yosef that he should not and need not worry about acting in any way to bring his dreams to fruition.  Events were in Hashem's hands; all that was required of him was surrender and to let events run their course.


  1. where is this sefas emes

    1. chaim b.1:40 PM

      See the piece in 5632 d"h "mah". There is a piece in 5631 that has a slightly different approach as well.

  2. Anonymous11:59 PM

    not only was the means that Yosef used suspect (Sar HaMashkim), so too was the end that he was angling for--
    when he asks the cupbearer to remember him to Paroh, does
    Yosef naively assume that the king of a great country will
    greatly seek justice, personally drop whatever he's doing to investigate the claim of unfair treatment by a single slave-prisoner in his kingdom? or does Yosef rather assume that just as a Paroh is quick to add any pretty face to his harem (Sarah, Rivkah), so too will a Paroh be quick to add to his roster of necromancers & advisors, any man of reputed skill in dream interpretation?

    Yosef ben Yisrael, so far successful from one forced setting to the next, should've known better-- 'free' circulation amid Paroh's shady entourage was not, any more than a membership in the Ku Klux Klan, or a seat on the Vatican Council, an answer to his captivity...