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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

Two Years of Days and Miracles in Those Days

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Time and its significance have always occupied the rabbis, and the inability to go back in time has always been a challenge. In the last decades, our ability to tell time accurately, with watches and other instruments, has made a major impact on our lives. However, one of the strong rules with which one is forced to learn much of Tanach is that "there is no early and late in the Torah" (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashana 1:1), i.e., the Torah is not tied to a system of chronology. (Rashi and the Ramban differ as to how broadly that observation should be taken or whether chronology is the strong norm.)

During this holiday of Chanuka, we recite at least four times a day, "On the miracles … in those days at this time." In this week’s parasha, we also read about what happened "at the end of two years of days" (shnatayim yamim - Bereishit 41:1), which is the introduction to the time of Paroh’s dreams and Yosef’s ascension to power.

The Ibn Ezra (ad loc.) points out that we are not told exactly where the starting point of the two-year count is. He then brings several places in Tanach in which it similarly refers to a passing of time and it is unclear from when. He also raises the issue of what yamim (days of) means in the context of years. The Ibn Ezra suggests that the two years are from the time that the sar hamashkim left jail, in accordance with Yosef’s interpretation of his dream. This fits well with an opinion in Chazal that Yosef was in jail for a total of twelve years (Seder Olam Rabba 2). We add to that the statement of Chazal that Yosef had to wait an extra two years to leave jail because he put his trust in the sar hamashkim (Bereishit Rabba 89:3). According to these accounts, taken together, Yosef had been in jail for ten years before his dealings with the sar hamashkim. Stressing the two years from the sar hamashkim story as opposed to the whole period in jail teaches a lesson in the need to trust in Hashem.

Another possibility raised by the Ibn Ezra is that the two years were his entire stay in prison. In that case, there is no indication that Yosef stayed there longer because of his interaction with the sar hamashkim.

According to both approaches, why did Divine Providence arrange that Yosef had to spend time in prison? According to Rashi (based on Sota 36b), Yosef had a thought of sinning with Potiphar’s wife. With such a great tzaddik as Yosef, Hashem is apt to be demanding and hold him to shortcomings of the "width of a strand of hair." Thus, Yosef could have been punished for a mere thought, and this can be the lesson of the time behind bars.

We hope to develop this idea in the weeks to come. In the meantime we thank Hashem for the miracles that occurred in these time in those days.

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