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Two full years passed. Then Pharaoh had a dream… (41:1).
Bereishit Rabba (89:3) states that Joseph had to remain in prison for another two years because his hishtadlut (effort) prompted him to trust the chief butler to promote his release: "Do me a favor and say something about me to Pharaoh. Perhaps you will be able to get me out of this place" (40:14). In support, the Midrash quotes Psalms 40:5: "Happy is the man who puts his trust in G-d and does not turn to the arrogant". However, elsewhere the Torah actually supports hishtadlut as well as bitachon (trust in the Almighty). After all, the Patriarch Jacob did not just pray, but he used his own active initiative to pacify Esau. This Midrash may be explained in the following way. Joseph's putting his faith in the chief butler was somewhat out of character with his relationship with G-d. Other incidents in the narrative show that he publicly and proudly declared his faith in G-d when in critical situations. When confronted and tempted by Potiphar's wife his response was: "How can I do this great evil and sin against G-d?" (39:9) That was despite being in a privileged position while at the same time a foreigner and a slave in a country of idolaters (Ex. 12:12). And when Pharaoh's own chief butler and the chief baker confided their dreams, Joseph again proclaimed: "Are not all interpretations from G-d?" (40:8)
By contrast, Joseph did not appear to have explicitly mentioned G-d when trying to get his own release from jail. In those circumstances he had not made his characteristic kiddush hashem (sanctification of G-d's Name) in a nation of idol worshippers.
The Kli Yakar uses this principle to explain why another two full years had to pass. "Cursed is the man who puts his trust in people and relies on flesh for his strength, and turns his thoughts from G-d" (Jer. 17:5). One year for placing his trust in people coupled with a second year for turning his thoughts from G-d at that critical moment. Indeed the Kli Yakar, quoting Rabbeinu Bachya, says that the highest level of bitachon is "rely on Him and He will act" (Psalms 37:5), meaning trust in G-d to the degree that His assistance may come from a totally different direction.
For example, a person short of money has the opportunity to use shady means to improve his situation. True bitachon is where that person remains steadfast in believing that G-d has infinite legitimate ways of coming to his support if He decides that he needs it.
And indeed, when eventually Joseph was brought to Pharaoh, he effected a tikun (act of putting things right) for this shortcoming. Pharaoh said: "I heard that when you hear a dream, you can explain it" (41:15). Even though Joseph knew that his whole future stood in the balance, he proclaimed in front of the monarchy of a country of polytheists: "It is not by my own power. But G-d may provide an answer concerning Pharaoh's welfare" (41:16).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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