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The two years refer to the additional two years Yosef remained in prison. Initially, Hashem decreed that Yosef would be imprisoned for ten years for "slandering" his ten brothers. Hashem, however, extended his incarceration, because he placed his trust in the wine steward. In addressing Yosef's misplaced trust, the Midrash seems to be inconsistent. They cite a pasuk in Tehillim 40:5 which states, "Praiseworthy is the man who has made Hashem his trust." Chazal interpret this to be a reference to Yosef, whose faith in the Almighty was unshakeable. Chazal interpret the second part of the pasuk, "And turned not the arrogant," as a criticism of Yosef for twice asking the wine steward to remember him before Pharaoh. How are we to reconcile the Midrash which seems to laud and castigate Yosef simultaneously?
The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, comments that one
has attained an impressive level of piety if Hashem punishes him
immediately for any infraction. Indeed, Hashem is clearly indicating
to him the area in which he erred. The righteous person immediately
corrects his ways, seeking penance for his indiscretion. Because
of his superior level of bitachon, trust, in the Almighty,
Yosef attained that position in Hashem's eyes as soon as he misplaced
his trust, regardless of the trivial nature of his act, Hashem
immediately punished him. This is the pasuk's message:
Yosef's trust in Hashem was so profound that any laxity resulted
in immediate disciplinary action.
The Torah seems to preface the ensuing order of events with the phrase, "At the end of two years." What is the significance of the two years? Could the Torah not have begun by simply stating that Pharaoh had a dream? After all, is that not how it all began? The Bais Ha'Levi posits that it is precisely this case of misdirected cause and effect that the Torah seeks to circumvent. We might think that Pharaoh dreamed, and Yosef was released from prison as a result of his G-d-given ability to interpret the dream. In such a scenario, Pharaoh's dream is the cause and Yosef's release is the effect. This is not true! Hashem ordained that Yosef remain in prison for ten years, which was later extended to twelve years. At the end of this time, Yosef was to be released. To facilitate his release, Hashem arranged for Pharaoh to dream his famous dreams, which Yosef interpreted. Once the end of Yosef's imprisonment approached, Hashem prepared the stage. We must remember that everything has a preordained time for occurring. When that time arrives, everything will just "seem" to fall into place.
Today, we equate "forgetting one's father's house," with an attempt to break with tradition. Ostensibly, this was not Yosef's intention. Yet, is it proper for an individual to boast about being able to forget the home of his youth? Is this a phenomenon for which one thanks Hashem? While it is true that Yosef's homelife left much to be desired, he did leave behind a grieving father. A more sensible way to view Yosef's statement reflects upon his refined character traits.
If we were to put ourselves in Yosef's shoes, bearing a grudge would probably be a restrained reaction. Indeed, we cannot begin to relate to his suffering. What seemed to be an idyllic life was tragically disturbed when he was only seventeen years old. He was raised in a home in which his chavrusa was his father, the bchir ha'Avos, chosen of the Partriarchs. Scorned by his brothers, he was spared from death and sold to a band of Arab traders who later sold him as a slave to the Egyptians. He was constantly challenged with trials and temptations, but he persevered. He triumphed over adversity, overcoming challenge and succeeding in maintaining his bitachon in Hashem. He emerged unscathed and pure from sin. What was the origin of his troubles? His home, his brothers and their jealousy, caused him twelve years of harsh suffering. The years in which he could have been with his father were transformed into years of suffering, loneliness and misery. Who caused it? Who sold him into this wretched life? His brothers.
Is it any wonder that Yosef might have felt animosity towards his brothers? Hostility is a normal reaction to such circumstances. Yosef Ha'Tzaddik, however, remained pure, bearing no grudge, feeling no hatred. He turned towards Hashem and declared his love for his brothers. He returned no ill will or resentment towards them. He abolished all rancor against them. This is the meaning of his thanksgiving to Hashem when he named Menashe. Thank You, Hashem, for giving me the courage to withstand my trials, especially for the ability to forgive and forget. Yosef was able to forget the suffering he underwent as a result of his brothers' errors.
Yosef teaches us an important lesson. Throughout life, we invariably, suffer pain at the instigation of others. Whether we suffer financial loss, job changes, shame or emotional pain, the worst mistake on our part is to permit reactive hatred to eat away at our lives. Nothing positive can emerge from hatred. Conversely, we only hurt ourselves by allowing animosity to gnaw away at our emotions. First, we must recognize that everything comes by the decree of Hashem; people are only Hashem's agents, employed to carry out His bidding. True, Hashem uses an evil person to carry out evil. Nevertheless, it is Hashem's will that we are criticizing. Second, for our own emotional and physical well-being, it is much healthier to ignore the evil around us and to go on living. Hatred only makes matters worse, granting more success to our detractors.
If we were to analyze the brothers' response to this occurrence, we might be tempted to say, "What did you expect?" They had sold their brother into slavery, and Hashem was delivering their retribution. Why are they complaining?" Indeed, in the Talmud Tannis 9a Chazal allude to this. They cite the pasuk in Mishlei 19:3"The foolishness of man perverts his way; and his heart frets against Hashem." A fool makes a mistake and then complains about the punishment he receives from the Almighty. Likewise, the brothers had sold Yosef and now they were unwilling to accept the consequences of their actions. After all is said and done, the brothers should not have sold Yosef. Therefore, they should have been prepared to accept their due retribution. The question remains: Why does the Talmud refer to them as "ive'le's," foolish? What did they do that was foolish?
Horav Avigdor Ha'Levi Nebentzhal, Shlita, addresses this question, deducing an important principle in human nature. He first cites Horav Chaim Ze'ev Finkel, zl, who attributes the "foolishness" to the brothers' timing. Why did they wait so long to question, "What is it that Hashem has done to us?" Why did they not open their bags immediately upon their receipt? How does an intelligent person purchase grain in a strange land in a sealed bag? Perhaps the Egyptians were filling the bags with inferior grain or grain which was hardly edible. During a famine, one is particularly cautious in spending his hard-earned money. The second time they went to Egypt, they again neglected to check their bags. Perhaps, had they found Yosef's silver goblet on their own, the outcome might have been different. Undoubtedly, the Shivtei Kah were engrossed in profound spiritual matters, not geared to the mundane. Yet, Chazal criticize them for not exhibiting greater perception in this matter.
Horav Nebentzhal claims that Chazal's criticism is directed at the brothers' behavior throughout their entire encounter in Egypt. If one rationally reflects upon the manner in which the brothers acted from the time they entered Egypt, one wonders at their innocence. How did they permit one ambiguity after another without questioning the circumstances? After all, they were aware that Yosef might still have been alive. The first question they should have asked themselves was, "How did the Egyptians detect us?" They each entered through a different gate. It was obvious that the Egyptian officials were directed to look for a specific individual. Indeed, Chazal tell us that each person who entered Egypt was to produce the name of his father and grandfather. All this just to purchase grain!
Second, does everyone who is suspected of spying come before the viceroy of the country immediately? One only has to study the Midrashic account of their conversation to wonder how the brothers accepted everything that was occurring as if it were the expected order of events. Third, why did they bow down to Yosef? Why didn't anyone remember the dreams and wonder? Fourth, this ruler who was charging them with spying seemed to be an enigma in his own right. He was prepared to free a group of spies simply out of concern for their father. He invited them to eat, his chef showing them that the meat was slaughtered and prepared according to the strictest standard of Jewish law. Still, no one seemed to have questioned the events. Is that not amazing?
The next day they left, only to be immediately summoned by the royal guard. The viceroy's silver goblet was missing. Lo and behold, it was found in Binyamin's sack. What was their reaction to all this? The Midrash tells us that they truly suspected Binyamin of stealing. After all, he took after his mother who had stolen Lavan's idols. Still, they did not have a clue as to what was actually happening. Could they truly have believed that all these occurrences were merely coincidental?
Yes! One who is an "avil," blinded by doubt, sees nothing clearly. The Hebrew word, has its origin in the word, "if/maybe". This person always has doubts. Indecisiveness and skepticism are the more conspicuous features of this individual's personality. He never accepts a response, however logical, without questioning its validity. "Who says so? Why? Maybe." These are the most common words in his vocabulary. He can transform the most clear truth into an ambiguity.
Conversely, this person has another interesting trait in his personality. He can believe in the greatest paradox with the utmost conviction, regardless of how many contradictions challenge his belief. The brothers must have been confronted by a number of striking questions - all of which challenged their belief that the man before them was nothing more than an Egyptian. The evidence proved them wrong - yet they continued to naively believe that this man could not be Yosef.
What blinded them? What clouded their vision, so that they did not see that which was so simple to comprehend? One did not need a detective to see that none other than their lost brother, Yosef, stood before them.
The answer is simple, claims Horav Nebentzhal. They had rendered a halachic decision that Yosef was a rasha, an evil rodef, who was bent on destroying them. They had found him guilty! Yosef's dreams did not retain any validity. They were certain about the accuracy of their psak halachah; nothing they witnessed stimulated questions that could impeach their perception. They found every teretz, excuse, to uphold their conviction. They could not fathom that they had sold an innocent man, that they had ruined the life of a righteous and moral person who had only wanted to help them.
Are we any different? If our mind is made up, are we willing to listen to anyone who proves us clearly wrong? Do we at times remain committed to our foolishness with such resolution that it underscores our folly? Can we read through this entire thesis and remark with our usual self-serving smugness, "This does not apply to me anyway, because I know that I am right."
The Chofetz Chaim, zl, notes the vast power and lasting effects of every word that one speaks. Yaakov Avinu teaches us a profound lesson in the care one must exercise to guard every word that exits his mouth. We note that when Lavan accused Yaakov of stealing his terafim, idols, Yaakov countered by saying, "With whomever you shall find your gods, he shall not live" (Bereishis 31:32) The unintentional curse which Yaakov uttered had a disastrous effect. Rachel had actually taken the idols. As a result of this curse, Rachel died prematurely.
When the brothers returned from Egypt, they recounted their entire debacle with the Egyptian viceroy. They retold how he accused them of being spies and later imprisoned Shimon. They reported that he now desired the presence of the beloved Binyamin. One might think that Yaakov would have cursed the viceroy. Not Yaakov! Not only did he not curse him, he even sent along a small token for him. The only words he said were in a prayer, imploring Hashem to guard the brothers that they may find favor in the viceroy's eyes.
Imagine the tragedy if Yaakov had inadvertently cursed the viceroy. He would have been responsible for killing his own son! Yaakov's deliberate act of weighing each word averted a tragedy.
1. In Pharaoh's dream, why do the seven years of hunger and plenty come in the guise of cows and ears of corn?
2. What night of the year did Pharaoh have his dream?
3. How did Yosef know how to speak the various languages it was essential for him to know as viceroy of Egypt?
4. What stipulation did Pharaoh make in regard to his own powers before declaring Yosef the viceroy?
5. Why did Yosef insist on imprisoning Shimon?
6. Why did Yosef plant his goblet in Binyamin's
1. The Ramban explains that the cows represent the plowing season while the ears of corn symbolize the harvest.
2. On Rosh Hashanah.
3. On the night before his release from prison the angel Gavriel appeared to him and taught him all seventy languages.
4. He retained for himself the position of king.
5. Shimon was the one who had thrown him into the pit. Yosef also wanted to separate Shimon from Levi out of fear that the two might plot together to kill him.
6. He wanted to see if the brothers were willing
to risk their lives for the sake of Binyamin. By doing so they
indicated that they were not jealous of the "youngest"
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