Rabbi David Kapenstein
At the end of this week’s portion, the Torah describes Joseph’s interpreting the dreams of the chief baker and butler.
At the end of this week’s portion, the Torah describes Joseph’s interpreting the dreams of the chief baker and butler. Joseph told the butler that he would be returned to his position on Pharaoh’s staff. When the baker heard that his companion’s dream was interpreted favorably, he also asked to have his dream interpreted. Much to the baker’s surprise, Joseph informed him that his dream indicated that he would soon be executed. And so it went, that the butler was freed from jail and given back his old job, while the baker was beheaded.
Before the butler left the jail, Joseph requested of him one favor: “If only you would remember me when [Pharaoh] does good to you, and you will do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharaoh, then you would get me removed from this jail” (Genesis 40:14). We know from the beginning of next week’s Torah portion that Joseph was in fact released from jail – two years later – when Pharaoh needed an interpreter for his dreams. Our rabbis tell us that it was more than coincidence that Pharaoh’s dreams did not take place immediately. Indeed, Joseph was kept in jail those extra two years as a punishment for demonstrating his lack of bitachon (trust) in Hashem by relying on the butler to get him out of jail.
What was wrong with Joseph asking the butler to repay his debt of gratitude by assisting in Joseph’s removal from prison? Surely, Joseph was merely using the butler as an intermediary, while he fully recognized that ultimately it was G-d Himself that would ensure the fulfillment of his wishes. Furthermore, we are not allowed to rely on miracles. Hashem wants us to “do our part”, and then He chooses whether or not to reward our efforts.
The Beis HaLevi, a great 19th century Torah scholar, explains that because Joseph was on such a high spiritual level, G-d’s expectations of him were greater than that of an average person. For an ordinary person, making such a request of the butler would not have been viewed as demonstrating a lack of faith whatsoever. However, Hashem considered Joseph to be the epitome of faith. Thus, his request of the butler revealed, in G-d’s eyes, a feeling of desperation, albeit that Joseph did not intend this to be so. Hashem expected Joseph to fully rely on Him and not make any effort on his own.
We must always remember that the Torah’s measuring stick for our great ancestors was far more demanding than the standards by which we are judged. Nevertheless, just as a parent’s expectations of his child grow as the child gets older, so do G-d’s expectations of us grow as we develop in our sincerity and commitment to His Torah. Let us always set our spiritual goals high so that we may demonstrate our appreciation for the boundless goodness which is bestowed upon us.
Rabbi David Kapenstein is the Director of Development at the Torah Day School of Atlanta.
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