Vayeshev: Faith vs. Initiative


Yosef was sent to prison where he met Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. He asked for their assistance in securing his release, and in response, Hashem punished him with two more years of imprisonment. Yet those two ministers were instrumental -- by Hashem’s design -- in Yosef’s ultimate release. How does this make sense?

The Correct Approach to Faith

The Torah says that “the cupbearer didn’t remember about Yosef and he forgot him.” Rashi explains, “Because Yosef relied on him to remember him, he was doomed to remain in prison for two years. So it is said, ‘Happy is the man who makes the L-rd his trust and turns not to the arrogant’ — i.e. do not trust in the Egyptians who are called arrogant.”

The following question arises: At the beginning of the segment in the Torah, the verse states, “Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt gave offense to their lord the king of Egypt.” Rashi notes, “Because that cursed woman (Potiphar’s wife) had accustomed the people to talk badly about the righteous man (Yosef), therefore Hashem brought about the sin of these men, so that the Egyptians would turn their attention to the two chamberlains and not to Yosef, and also so that relief would come to the righteous man through them.”

Clearly, Hashem orchestrated the events in a fashion that the cupbearer and baker would find themselves in prison together with Yosef, “so that relief would come to the righteous man through them.” Indeed, as the Torah continues to explain, the cupbearer was the one who introduced Yosef to Pharaoh as one who could interpret his dreams, thereby leading to his release from prison.

There seems to be a contradiction between Rashi’s words at the beginning and end of the topic. At the outset, Rashi says that they were imprisoned in order to facilitate the release of Yosef. And if Yosef understood that they were there for his release, it is quite reasonable that he asked them to intercede with Pharaoh on his behalf.

Seemingly, had Yosef not asked to be released, he would have risked squandering the opportunity that Hashem had placed squarely before him, and Hashem’s ‘orchestration’ would have been for naught!

Thus, Rashi’s final words – that Yosef was punished with an additional two years for placing his trust in the cupbearer – are difficult to understand. Why was it considered a sin to ask for his intercession? The whole purpose of the cupbearer’s imprisonment was to bring salvation to Yosef. Was he not obligated to act accordingly!?

Pull Connections, But Trust in Hashem

The explanation: 

The reason Yosef was punished with an additional two years in his imprisonment – despite the fact that the cupbearer was there for his sake – lies in the exact wording of Rashi, “Because Yosef relied on him to remember him.”

In the continuation of Rashi’s explanation, he cites a verse from Psalms, “Happy is the man who makes the L-rd his trust and turns not to the arrogant.” Seemingly, Rashi could have chosen to use the same terminology, “Yosef turned to the cupbearer to remember him.” Nonetheless, Rashi uses the Hebrew word תלה, “Yosef relied on the cupbearer.”

The word תלה means to rely and depend on the subject. In other words, Yosef saw his release from imprisonment as dependent on the cupbearer’s intercession before Pharaoh. If he would intercede, Yosef felt he would be released, and if not, he would remain imprisoned.

This was Yosef’s sin: he depended on the cupbearer for his release, as if he wields control over his destiny. 

In other words, Yosef was obligated to pursue his release and ask the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh. Indeed, that was the reason the cupbearer ended up in prison altogether. However, he should have done so with the recognition that the ultimate result lies in Hashem’s hands, and not in the deeds of the cupbearer. Thus, Rashi wrote, “Because Yosef relied on him to remember him, he was doomed to remain in prison for two years.”

Now we can understand why Rashi cited the entire length of the verse, “Happy is the man who makes the L-rd his trust and turns not to the arrogant.”  His intent is to emphasize Yosef’s mistake – that he depended on a person of flesh and blood instead of placing his trust in Hashem.

Shabbos Vayeshev 5743. (Toras Menachem 5743 vol. 2 pg. 697).

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