Jumped the Gun

“Yet the chief butler did not remember Yosef, but he forgot him.” (Beresheet 40:23)

After spending 10 years in an Egyptian prison, convicted of false charges, Yosef saw an opportunity to gain his freedom. Two of the inmates under his charge (he was an assistant to the warden) were previously officers in the palace of the monarch. Because of their negligence, each was convicted and sent to the same prison as Yosef.

One night they both had vivid, disturbing dreams. Yosef saw their faces and realized something was bothering them. When they revealed their dreams to him, Yosef interpreted the chief baker’s dream as portending death, and the chief butler’s as foretelling that not only would he be freed, but would also return to his former position. All of this would take place, Yosef said, in three days.

Immediately after interpreting the chief butler’s dream, Yosef turned to the officer, who would be free in 72 hours, and said, “If only you would think of me with yourself when he benefits you, and you would do with me a kindness, if you please, mention me to Pharaoh, then you would get me out of this building…” (Beresheet 40:14).

The Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 89:3) cited by Rashi criticizes Yosef for his request, saying, “Because Yosef placed his confidence in him (the chief butler) to remember him, he was incarcerated in prison two additional years, as it states: “Happy is the man who makes the L-rd his trust, and does not turn to the proud, nor to those who go astray after lies” (Tehillim 40:5).

In other words, there is reason to point out a flaw in Yosef’s bitachon — trust in Hashem — because he turned to a human being for assistance. But isn’t one who is in prison required to do what he can to gain his freedom? This question becomes greater when we study the personalities of Tanach and see that Yosef is considered to be at the highest level of bitachon a person can achieve.

Many answers are offered to resolve this difficulty. Harav Baruch Dov Povarsky, shlita, in his sefer Bad Hakodesh, offers a novel resolution. How can Yosef ask someone who is with him in prison to help him get out? They are both not in a position to free themselves, much less each other.

One might propose that Yosef believed that Hashem had supplied him with the true interpretation and was certain his fellow inmate would be released in a mere three days. True, he considered, he can’t help now — but soon he would be able to.

A man at Yosef’s level should have continued to turn exclusively to Hashem to free him. He should have relied on our Creator to devise circumstances for his release before three days would pass. Yosef’s request at this time wasn’t the wrong question; it was premature. At the moment of the chief butler’s release, it would have conformed to proper hishtadlut — human effort — to request a favor from a human being.

We, of course, are nowhere near the level of Yosef. Yet, each of us, on his own level, must trust Hashem for all of our needs and minimize personal effort. Keeping our times for prayer, learning, family and mitzvot sacred — at our level — is what is expected. And as we grow in Torah and fear of Heaven, we are expected to trust Hashem more, and human intervention less.

These are hard lessons to actualize into behavioral realities, yet we are all expected to set standards for ourselves that match the sterling behavior of those who built our Holy Nation. Start your climb — and Hashem will do the rest.

Shabbat shalom!