Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Miketz
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Rachel Bat Asher

Parashat Miketz


Rabbi Zev Leff

The Rabbis relate that Yosef was punished with two extra years of imprisonment for asking the Sar ha-Mashkim, the wine butler, to mention his plight to Pharoah and have him released from prison. The commentaries ask: What was Yosef’s sin? Surely one must exercise hishtadlut, take the initiative and make an effort, to deserve Divine assistance. Also, why was he punished specifically for two years? And furthermore, if God wanted to teach Yosef not to trust in man but only in Him, why in the end did He cause Yosef to be freed from prison through the efforts of the Sar ha-Mashkim, exactly as Yosef had anticipated, rather than demonstrate that He, God, could take him out of prison without the Sar ha-Mashkim’s assistance?

Perhaps the idea is as follows. While a person must make his hishtadlut, this is merely a prerequisite condition. His initiative, however, is not what leads to the final result. What actually brings about the result is Divine providence.

Yosef exercised his initiative by asking the Sar ha-Mashkim to remember him. But when Yosef specifically instructed him how to use that rememberance by mentioning him to Pharoah, he intimated that it was he in fact who was orchestrating the events that would eventually lead to his freedom.

The Gemara says that a person can remember something to actively pursue it for twelve months. Hence, the Sar ha-Mashkim could have remembered Yosef’s request to act upon it for one year. Had he told Pharoah at the end of the year, Pharoah too could have remembered one year. Hence, at the conclusion of two years, Yosef’s request of the Sar ha-Mashkim could no longer have been effective according to the natural flow of things. This is what God demonstrated to Yosef. Yes, you have to make an effort and take the initiative, but don’t think that this is the ultimate cause of the result. I will get you out of prison just as you thought through the agency of the Sar ha-Mashkim, but only after two years when it will be obvious that your intervention was in fact not the cause.

Many times earning a living is a factor in the decision to make Aliyah. One should remember that while hishtadlut is important and necessary, it must be understood not as a causal factor but only as a condition. Ultimately, God provides a livelihood, whether it be in Chutz la-Aretz or in Eretz Israel. When this is understood, then faith and trust become more of a reality, and the decision to fulfill the mitzva of living in Eretz Israel becomes more easily facilitated.

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