Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Vayeishev, Miketz: Why Yosef Remained in Prison Two Extra Years

At the end of Vayeishev, Yosef asked the Sar HaMashkim to remember him to Pharaoh, to ask that he be released because he was innocent. The Sar HaMashkim forgot Yosef until Pharaoh had the inscrutable dream that begins our Parsha. Rashi says that Yosef was forgotten, and remained imprisoned for two extra years, for his lack of faith. He should have trusted in divine providence and should not have made any attempt to hasten the process. Parshas Mikeitz begins with that word because it indicates the end of a discrete period- in this case, the two additional years of incarceration that Yosef was required to experience.

Rashi 40:23

But the chief cupbearer did not remember: on that day
ולא זכר שר המשקים: בו ביום:.

and he forgot him: afterwards. Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years, as it is said:“Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty (רְהָבִים)” (Ps. 40:5). He did not turn to the Egyptians, who are called רַהַב, haughty. [From Gen. Rabbah 89:3]

וישכחהו: לאחר מכן. מפני שתלה בו יוסף בטחונו לזכרו, הוזקק להיות אסור עוד שתי שנים, שנאמר (תהלים מ ה) אשרי הגבר אשר שם ה' מבטחו ולא פנה אל רהבים, ולא בטח על מצרים הקרוים (ישעיה ל ז) רהב:

Reb Moshe finds this incredible. Despite our faith that Hashem's will ultimately being effected, we are expected and required to make an effort to accomplish things on our own. We know that our success or failure will be because Hashem made it so, but we must make the effort. This is elementary. Reb Moshe rejects the idea that Tzadikim Gemurim, like Yosef, should make no effort at all. So Reb Moshe says two things;

1. Yosef's experience in going to Egypt and his life there involved constant miracles. From the moment he was sold by the brothers, his life should have ended five times, and the fact that he survived and flourished was obvious divine intervention. In addition, his terrible circumstances, his unjust imprisonment, also indicated clear hashgacha pratis. So while others are expected to make personal efforts, in Yosef's case, where it was clear as day that a preordained story was unfolding moment by moment, his personal efforts were inappropriate.

But, Reb Moshe says, this only explains one year of imprisonment. Even Resha'im don't suffer in Gehinnom for more than one year, so why did Yosef remain confined for two years?  So he says

2. Rashi describes the Mitzrim, and specifically the Sar HaMashkim, as רהבים. Rahav means haughty. Yosef should have realized that you never should ask for a favor from a haughty person, from a baal ga'avah, because for the ba'al gaivah, nobody matters, nobody really exists, but himself. He will not lift a finger for another unless he directly benefits. So although Yosef was already punished for his misunderstanding of the Hashgacha Pratis, he was punished again for doing something that, for Yosef, was foolish. Nothing to do with religion, it was a punishment for doing something foolish. Like when you slap a child for running into the street- it's not a religion thing,  it's just teaching somebody to have more seichel and to think before he jumps.

I want to emphasize this second answer. You might ask, if Yosef was punished for failing to see or trust the Yad Hashem, what difference does it make if his request was foolish? Again, the answer is that it doesn't matter that he shouldn't have made any effort in the first place. It's true, he shouldn't have made any effort at all, and he was punished for making it. But as an entirely separate matter, whatever a man does must be done with seichel, and doing something without full focus deserves a patch.

I usually post only things of my own, but I was so enamored of the seichel hayashar in this piece that I had to put it up. When Yosef talks to Pharaoh in the beginning of Mikeitz, of course his interpretation was divinely inspired. But his brilliant suggestions to Pharaoh were not, as far as I know, part of his nevu'ah. That was what he thought of on his own, and it took a lot of courage and fast thinking to make those audacious suggestions. If Pharaoh were in a bad mood, he could have thanked Yosef for his interpretation and have him killed or thrown back into the pit. He had plenty of skilled tax-masters and bureaucrats that could have done the job. It was Yosef's presentation and words that awed Pharaoh and convinced him on the spot to take this foreign slave and make him the viceroy of Egypt. That was all Yosef's doing.
Here are Reb Moshe's words; it is written in several places, but this is what he wrote in the Darash Moshe.

שם פרש"י מפני שתלה בו יוסף בטחונו לזכרו הוזקק להיות אסור שתי שנים וכו' מה 
שנענש יוסף בשנתים ימים אף שיב"ח הרי הוא שיעור העונש כעדיות ספ"ב נראה דהוא על שני דברים 
א על שהי"ל לידע שרק בשבילו עשה השי"ת שישימו את שר המשקים והאופים בבית הסוהר שהוא נמצא שם ושיחלמו חלומות והוא יפתור אותם וממילא לא הי"ל לבקשו אף שודאי צריך כל אדם להשתדל במה שביכלתו ואין בזה שום חסרון בבטחון וגם יעקב עשה כל העצות אף שבטח רק בהשי"ת אבל כן הוא רצון השי"ת שהאדם ישתדל והוא יעזרהו ולא שיסמוך על נסים אבל הכא הי"ל להבין שהוא רק מעשה השי"ת להצלתו 
ב שהי"ל לידע שמצרים שנקראו רהב משום שהם בעלי גאוה ובעלי הגאוה שמתגאים על לא דבר ולא שום מעלה לא שייך שיעשו איזה טובה לשום אדם שזהו מחסרון בעלי הגאוה שכל אדם שפל בעיניהם ואין כדאי להם לעשות לו טובה וצריך האדם לידע זה ולכן נענש בשתי שנים 

I also want to add something from the Gemara in Bava Metziah 75b. The Gemara lists three whose prayers are ignored. The third is a person who is not successful in one city and lacks the sense and courage to move to another city and start over again. He should know that galus is mechaper, or that he's too deep into a bad circumstance to help himself, and it's time to move. If he doesn't move, then it's his own fault, and when you bring your bad fate upon yourself and are unwilling to make the effort that can resolve your problem, your tefillos will be ignored. 

תנו רבנן שלשה צועקין ואינן נענין ואלו הן מי שיש לו מעות ומלוה אותן שלא בעדים והקונה אדון לעצמו ומי שאשתו מושלת עליו קונה אדון לעצמו מאי היא איכא דאמרי תולה נכסיו בנכרי איכא דאמרי הכותב נכסיו לבניו בחייו איכא דאמרי דביש ליה בהא מתא ולא אזיל למתא אחריתא:

Rashi there-
שהרי הם גרמו לעצמן

I spoke about this idea elsewhere- that we were placed in this world not only to do Torah and Mitzvos but also to become the best human beings we are capable of becoming- and that involves every thing that expresses our humanity and seichel that we are capable of doing. You are put here not just to become a malach, but also to become a mentsch. I don't want to hide behind ambiguity here, so I'll make it clear. The Ribono shel Olam requires not only that we follow halacha and develop good middos, but also that we develop our intellectual abilities to their greatest extent. A person that is meticulous about religious law and middos but acts without seichel or lazily in worldly matters transgresses Hashem's will. It is a sin to be a na'ar. Being a na'ar is not just what Rashi says in 37:2 about Yosef being excessively interested in his appearance- 
"והוא נער" - שהיה עושה מעשה נערות מתקן בשערו ממשמש בעיניו כדי שיהיה נראה יפה- 
it involves anything done without intelligence and maturity.


  1. An interesting insight: The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that indeed, when Yosef told Pharoah to save up food from the years of plenty in order to be able to have food to eat during the years of famine, this was not Yosef making up his own suggestion, but rather, was part of the dream interpretation. This "suggestion" was in fact the interpretation of the detail in the dream that after the skinny cows came out of the river, they "stood alongside" the fat cows (before swallowing them up). Yosef told Pharoah that the meaning of this "standing alongside" was that even during the years of plenty the Egyptians should act as if the years of famine were already upon them, thus making sure to set aside and save up all of the surplus food (as one would do in times of hunger).

    As a separate matter, the second point you related above doesn't speak to me the way it seems to speak to you. Granted, one could not rely on a baal gaavah to do something without any self-interest. But why should requesting the favor deserve a punishment? It may be foolish, but it's not like running into the street, which is not just foolish but dangerous. According to seichel, Yosef's request was in no way dangerous and did not present any risk. If the sar hamashkim would not follow through (as he didn't), well, nothing gained but nothing lost either - he would still be imprisoned either way. So why was the request itself (separate to the lack of bitachon) deserving of a punishment?

  2. I understand the problem you're raising in the second paragraph. I'm going to add the original from Reb Moshe, and I'm going to expand on it a little from the Gemara at the end of Eizehu Neshech.

    1. Sorry, I don't see how the Gemara that you quote sheds any light on the matter of Yosef. The Gemara talks about a person whose own action (or inaction) causes his own problems. Yosef's action of asking the sar hamashkim did not cause any problem, they simply did not help. So again, why should he be punished for that with a second year of (extra) imprisonment?

      Also, I'm not sure I understand Reb Moshe's explanation of the first year of punishment either. Reb Moshe seems to be saying that Yosef should not have taken any action at all, but should have simply sat back and done nothing at all. Yet if so, perhaps we should also say that he shouldn't have offered to interpret the dreams either? Or maybe he shouldn't have asked the two ministers why they were upset? Or maybe he should have done nothing at all, but just sat in his cell all day? How was he supposed to know exactly what to do and what not to do? However, if you look closely at Rashi, he does not say that Yosef was wrong to ask the sar hamashkim to help him. What he says is that he was wrong to put his trust in the sar hamashkim. Simply understood, what that means is that he was correct to take any action that offered a possibility of helping to get him out of jail - BUT while realizing all along that the success of any particular course of action depends only on Hashem. Because Yosef put his trust in the sar hamashkim instead of relying only on Hashem (while doing anything in his power to create a channel in the natural order for Hashem's brachos), therefore his action was unsuccessful and he was compelled to remain in the prison for extra time.

    2. Nice pshat- not that the hishtadlus was wrong, but that he did not adequately articulate to himself the secondary role of hishtadlus.