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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


It happened at the end of two years. (41:1)

The "two years" refer to the additional two years Yosef remained in prison. Initially, the Heavenly decree was that he serve one year for each brother against whom he had spoken. Because he placed his trust in the wine steward by asking him to intercede with Pharoah on his behalf, Hashem extended his incarceration. He should have maintained his trust in Hashem Who had protected him until that point. We must try to understand this. What did Yosef do that was so wrong? He was mishtadel, endeavored, by asking the wine steward to put in a good word for him. Is that so bad? He never rejected Hashem. Certainly, he was waiting for Hashem's blessing. This does not preclude or detract from man's right and responsibility to be mishtadel. Furthermore, it is natural for someone in prison to seek every opportunity to liberate himself.

Horav Avroham Kilav, Shlita, explains that while this concept might be true in regard to most people, Yosef was different. He later told his brothers, "Do not worry, for it is as a supporter of life that Hashem has sent me ahead of you" (45:5). In other words, Yosef acutely sensed Hashem's dominating force in the evolving events. Furthermore, when Yosef was in the house of Potifar, with free reign to do as he pleased, why did he not communicate with his father? Apparently, Yosef was cognizant of the significance of the dreams and the importance of their being actualized. Since Yosef understood and clearly perceived Hashem's preoccupation in the affairs surrounding his life, he should have trusted in Him irrevocably. Endeavoring is for those who do not anticipate the Hand of Hashem in their affairs. Yosef certainly did. Thus, he should have waited for the signal from Above.

Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and appoint him over the land. (41:33)

Troubled by his strange dreams, Pharaoh sought an individual who could interpret them for him. He listened to - and ignored - various interpretations until Yosef presented a lucid explanation of the dreams. Moreover, Yosef even suggested a way to respond constructively to the message of the dream. He advised Pharaoh to seek a wise and competent administrator to oversee the gathering of the grain during the seven years of plenty. This is enigmatic. Pharaoh only sought an interpreter; he did not ask for an advisor. Why did Yosef give unsolicited advice?

Furthermore, while it might have been true that Pharaoh needed a wise man to interpret the dream and even to suggest how to implement a response, why would he need a wise man afterwards to serve as administrator? Could he not simply hire an able and accomplished professional to take charge of gathering and selling the grain? Why would he have to be a navon v'chacham, discerning and wise?

Horav Yaakov Lubchensky, zl, explains that it was not enough simply to gather and sell the grain. Only a wise man could construct a plan to hoard grain during the years of plenty, when massive surpluses were accessible. Someone would have to arouse the people, impressing upon them a sense of urgency to save the grain at a time when they were literally wallowing in it. To illustrate hunger to the point of actualization - during a period of abundance - takes discernment, penetrating insight and wisdom. An able administrator might have been able to convince some of the people to store their surplus, but a unique individual was required to teach people to understand and feel the danger of not doing so at a time when so much was available.

Horav Avraham Pam, zl, feels that Yosef's insight has a practical application to our youth. Our sojourn on this world may be likened to the seven years of plenty. We think that life is endless and time is limitless to the point that we completely lose perspective on the value of time - until it is too late. In the World to Come, all we have is what we take with us, what we have stored up in this world. How bitter will be our regret when we realize that we have exchanged spiritual jewels for worthless forgeries.

We may add that the navon v'chacham, the discerning and wise men, whose function it is to arouse and inspire the youth of our generation, are the Torah teachers and spiritual mentors. They are charged with a mission: to paint a picture of reality to a world that views life through a lens of distortion and imagination. While it is true that it takes wisdom to transmit this image, the frame that holds up the picture is the integrity behind it.

So Pharaoh sent and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the pit. (41:14)

Hashem Yisborach's plan does not necessarily coincide with that of man. Indeed, every one of us must have moments when he wonders "Why me?" We are at a loss for a rationale that explains the various life situations to which we are subjected at times. Perhaps Yosef had the same dilemma. The youngest in the home of the distinguished Yaakov Avinu, he surely must have yearned to have a close relationship with his brothers. They shunned and loathed him. His brothers wanted nothing to do with him. Yosef must have been very lonely. In fact, he grew up alone. It was an adversarial situation - Yosef against everyone else. One who reads the narrative of Yosef's early childhood might wonder why it had to be this way. Why could Yosef not have had a normal, healthy relationship with his family? Why was there always tension catalyzing his rejection? Let us look at "page two" of his life. He was sold into slavery to a country which set the standard for moral depravity. If he were to have to make up for lost time by socializing with his fellow slaves, the chances that he would have maintained his spiritual status-quo was minimal. It was not difficult for Yosef to be a loner; he had been one until now at home. It was just more of the same situation. "Page three," Yosef was flung into prison to live among the degenerates of society who - as mentioned - had rewritten the laws of morality. Once again, Yosef was alone. Yosef, however, was accustomed to being alone - a little more would not destroy his life. Once again, we wonder: Did Yosef not deserve a little better? Should he not have had some harmony, some companionship in life?

Now that we have presented the negative aspect of Yosef's life, let us examine the positive effect these presumed negative circumstances had on Yosef. Since he was destined to be deprived of the protective spiritual environment of his home, Yosef needed a shield to repel the harmful influence of the Egyptian culture. He was sold as a slave. Slaves are not part of the upper echelon and, thus, not exposed to its worst debauchery. When he was liberated and raised to a position of importance and power, the wife of Potifar attempted to seduce him. He withstood the test, but ended up in jail. Once again, he was spared an association with Egyptian society. How does one survive the loneliness of jail? That depends upon the individual's background. If he has led a gregarious, fun-filled life, then he might find prison depressing. If, however, in his previous lifestyle he has been reclusive and scorned, then he might not find prison that unpleasant.

In other words, the hardship and dejection to which Yosef was subjected was a preparation, a training period to protect him from the environment and culture which would one day be his home. He could deal with the dejection of servitude and the loneliness of prison because he had "graduated" from it at home. What might have appeared as negative circumstances were actually what saved Yosef, helping him to develop the ability to rise to the position of Viceroy of Egypt, while still remaining as devout and righteous as he had been when he left his father's home. This should be a lesson for us, to reconsider, when we look at what seems to be a negative situation.

We may go a step further in analyzing Yosef's ten-year incarceration. The Midrash HaGadol teaches us that since Yosef caused anguish to his ten brothers, he was punished and imprisoned for ten years - one year for each brother. Incredible! His brothers sold Yosef. They sought to kill him. Instead, they only ruined his life. He sinned against them! His dreams implied that he would rule over them. This catalyzed their anxiety, which was the precursor of the envy and enmity that led to their selling him as a slave. He sinned, and he must atone for his sin. He hurt his brothers unnecessarily; he was insensitive to their feelings. He needed to learn what it means to hurt someone: how the pain feels, how deep is the hurt. It is not enough to listen to a mussar shmuess, ethical discourse, about sensitivity and feelings. One must experience the hurt - himself. Only then can he begin to atone his actions.

Ten years is a long time, but ten brothers is a large group. One year for each brother's pain may seem a bit excessive, but Yosef Ha'Tzaddik was no ordinary person. He is called ha'tzaddik, the righteous, for a reason. Hashem is very demanding of those who are close to Him. A deviation of a hairsbreadth is enough reason for His close ones to be punished.

Yosef spent ten years in a special school - an Egyptian prison. During this time, he became sensitized to his brother's feelings. He experienced pain and deprivation, hurt and dejection. He had the opportunity to introspect, to delve into his past actions and their effect upon others. He prepared for his next page in life-monarchy. In order to be a successful leader, one must be sensitive to the needs of others. A leader represents his community and, hence, must represent each of its members. In the classroom called life, we all have the opportunity to learn from our experiences. Those of us that do are better people as a result.

Take of the land's glory…And take double money in your hand…And may Kel Shakai grant you mercy before the man. (43:11,12,14)

Rashi explains that Yaakov Avinu was telling his sons, "I have done everything; I have sent a gift; I have given double money; now, you lack nothing - but prayer. Behold! I will pray for you." We learn the correct approach one from Yaakov must manifest when confronting challenge. He first ascertained that there were sufficient funds for purchasing the necessities for his large family. He even sent a gift for the Viceroy to assure a swift and pleasant exchange. Last, after all of his hishtadlus, endeavoring, he began to pray, because - when all is said and done - prayer will be most efficacious. Moreover, even those areas of achievement which "seem" to be the result of one's endeavor are not. Hishtadlus is an important component in the process which serves as the vehicle through which one receives Hashem's bounty.

To paraphrase the Chovas Halevavos, cited by Nachlas Tzvi, "Ein hahishtadlus mo'il ela muchrach," "Endeavoring is not useful, but rather, (it is) compelled." We may add a comment I heard related in the name of the Gerer Rebbe in regard to the area of shidduchim, finding one's designated mate, "Hishtadlus is nor far di nerven." "Endeavoring is only for one's nerves." In other words, one is compelled out of anxiety or driven by a feeling of helplessness, to be mishtadel, endeavor, to do everything possible to find/locate/discover/chance upon" his/her "bashert", designated mate. In the final analysis, however, when the appropriate time arrives, Hashem reveals the one who seems to have been so elusive.

Nachlas Tzvi cites Chacham Machluf Chadad, in his sefer "K'racheim Av," who relates the following compelling story, which demonstrates the significance of prayer. An extremely wealthy man by the name of Elkanah lived during the reign of Shlomo Hamelech. His home was open to all, as he contributed heavily to the welfare of those who were less fortunate than he. Suddenly, the situation reversed itself, and overnight he went bankrupt. He lost everything - except one goat, which he saved. He was now impoverished, in worse condition than many of those whom he had previously assisted.

Shlomo Hamelech would often change his royal garb and discretely go out among the populace to associate with the common citizen, to get an unbiased perspective on what was "going on" in his country. The day that Shlomo chose to go out was extremely hot. The sun was beating down on those who were unfortunate enough to be outside. When Elkanah noticed a poor man walking by his home in the intense heat, he ran to him with cold water and a piece of meat. He began to converse with Shlomo/the poor guest. In the course of the conversation, Elkanah mentioned he had once been wealthy and was left with nothing more than a single goat, which he had just slaughtered in honor of his guest. Shlomo Hamelech was extremely moved by the man's munificence. He said, " I am a good friend of Shlomo Hamelech. I will give you a letter which you should take to him, and he will reinstate you to your original position. Indeed, a person so kind and magnanimous as you deserves to be wealthy."

Elkanah took the letter to Yerushalayim. When he arrived at the palace of the king, he was told that Shlomo had gone to the Bais Hamikdash. He entered the Bais Hamikdash to find Shlomo prostrated on the floor supplicating Hashem on behalf of Klal Yisrael. "May they be blessed with wealth and good fortune. May their crops be plenty. May peace reign in the land," the king prayed. When Elkanah heard the king pray, he thought to himself, "If the king himself prays to Hashem for blessings, why should I turn to the king? I might as well turn to the Source of all blessing - Hashem." He began to pray and pour out his heart to Hashem, beseeching Him to return him to his former state. He left Yerushalayim filled with confidence and hope that his prayers would soon be answered.

A few days later, Elkanah went to the forest to chop some trees for wood. He went over to a tree. For some reason, he found it difficult to chop. The heat, which made him very tired, added to his toil. After resting for a short while, he again attempted to fell the tree, to not avail. Depressed and disgusted, he sat down and began to weep, pouring his heart out to Hashem. He soon arose and decided to dig up the tree by its roots. He began to dig and shortly discovered a hidden treasure of gold coins. Realizing that Hashem had just granted him his wish, he profusely offered his deep gratitude to the Almighty. He invested his newly found treasure in various business ventures and soon became wealthy beyond anything he had ever been before.

During this time, Shlomo Hamelech began to wonder why Elkanah never came to him with "the letter." He asked his servants if anyone had ever come to see him with a letter. They responded in the affirmative, he had been there and left upon hearing that the king was in the Bais HaMikdash. His curiosity piqued, the king felt he must investigate what had transpired with Elkanah. He changed into his "traveling clothes" and started out on the road in search of Elkanah. Arriving in Elkanah's town, he was shocked to see that Elkanah now lived in a palace surrounded by servants. Seeing the "guest," Elkanah summoned him to partake of food and drink and rest. Shlomo looked at Elkanah and queried, "Do you not recognize me? I am the poor man for whom you slaughtered your only goat. I gave you a letter to give to Shlomo Hamelech. Apparently, you succeeded in seeing him and receiving his aid."

"No!" answered Elkanah. "It is true that I went to see the king, but he was unavailable. After discovering that he was busy praying to Hashem, I decided that I should do the same. I poured out my heart, and Hashem listened to my pleas."

"I am Shlomo," the king responded. "Praised are you that you did not rely on man and trusted instead in Hashem. As He is the Source of everything, why should we not pray to the source?" What a beautiful story! Hopefully, its message will not elude us.

Questions and Answers

1. What happened to Yosef on the final night of his incarceration?

2. Why did Pharaoh seem to ask for the approval of his advisors before he appointed Yosef as viceroy?

3. Did the seven years of plenty occur throughout the entire world, or was it restricted to Egypt?

4. Why was it necessary for Yosef to place his silver goblet in Binyamin's sack?


1. It was Rosh Hashanah, a time when all Jews supplicate Hashem to bless them with life. Yosef was no different. He prayed to be released. On that night, the angel Gavriel appeared and taught Yosef all seventy languages, so that he could converse with Pharaoh (Midrash Rabba).

2. The Egyptians denigrated and hated the Jews. It was, therefore, necessary that Pharaoh's ministers give their approval. Hence, Pharaoh praised Yosef, asserting that there was no other person as qualified for the position as he was.

3. The seven years of plenty occurred only in Egypt, while the seven years of famine ravaged all of the lands (Ramban).

4. Yosef was afraid that his brothers might be as envious of Binyamin as they were of him. Alternatively, or since Binyamin might have suspected them of killing Yosef, he might have harbored ill will towards them. He was not going to risk Binyamin returning with them until he was absolutely certain of their love for him. When he saw Yehudah stand up for Binyamin, he was sure that they cared for him (Midrash Rabba)

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