“It happened at the end of two years to the day Pharaoh was dreaming” (Bereishis 41:1)
This portion begins by telling us that Yosef spent another two years in prison after he interpreted the cupbearer’s dream. Rashi and the midrash state that Yosef’s imprisonment was extended these two additional years because he asked the cupbearer to remember him. This has always troubled me. Is seeking help from another person such a grave sin? Does it really show a lack of trust in G-d?
Pesachim 64b states that although we should pray for Divine help we should not rely on miracles. That seems to indicate to me that not only is it ok to seek help from any and all sources, it is also proper to take action. So, what did Yosef do that was so severely punished? This poor kid was unjustifiably thrown in jail in the first place. Was seeking an opportunity to get out of there so bad that he should be punished?
Rabbi Abraham Twerski tells a story of a Chassidic Rebbe that might help us understand: There was a Rebbe Who was asked for his berachah (blessing) by a person whose business had failed and was in deep debt. The rebbe told the man to buy a lottery ticket. When the man didn’t win, the rebbe was deeply disappointed and complained to a tzaddik, “My berachos are ineffective.” The tzaddik said, “In the morning service we say, ‘Who among all your handiwork, those above and those below, can tell you what You should do?’ You should have given that person a berachah that he should prosper. Your mistake was in telling him to buy a lottery ticket. It is not your position to dictate to God how to bring about this person’s prosperity.” (Twerski on Chumash)
Maybe Yosef’s two additional years were not so much a punishment as a natural result of the situation. Maybe G-d honored Yosef’s desire to be remembered by the cupbearer. What if the fact that it took the cupbearer two years to do so was simply the time needed to bring about Yosef’s salvation by his chosen method? Maybe G-d’s method could have saved him that very same day?
G-d is the one who orchestrates our tests, and our salvations. But usually He does so by means we don’t anticipate. Even though we can and should do whatever we reasonably can to “help” the situation, we must never forget Who’s in charge. Although we might ultimately see the desired results, it rarely comes about the way we expect. If we try to tell G-d how to fix our situation, He might listen to us, and we might pay the consequences. We might delay our salvation!
Whatever G-d has destined for us will come about. But will it unfold in the way He chooses, which is always the best way, or in the way we want Him to do it? Thankfully He doesn’t always listen to our advice! That is proof of His mercy. However, there may well be occasions when we, like Yosef, find our sentence extended because that is what we have asked for!
“Let your trust (bitachon) remain with Hashem, I have made this known to you today, you also.” Mishlei 22:19
Bitachon is a foundation for fear of Hashem
“On the day that I fear, I trust in You” Tehillim 56:4
“In fear of Hashem is a powerful stronghold” Mishlei 14:26
When reciting certain blessings of Shemoneh Esrei, we bend our knees at the word “Baruch”, and straighten up at the word “Hashem”. It is explained in Berachos 6b that by bending we demonstrate our fear and awe before Hashem, but when standing upright, we display our bitachon in Hashem – that He will take care of us and all of our needs. As Rabbi Dwek explains in his book “A life of Bitachon”, we must strike a balance not only in regard to fear and faith, but regarding hishtadlus (physical effort) and bitachon as well.
So how do we know how much physical effort is necessary and how much is excessive? Rabbi Dwek explains that there are two differing viewpoints regarding bitachon: “The Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon 4) holds that it is forbidden to rely on a miracle, and that bitachon requires hishtadlus, physical effort, on our part. On the other side is the Ramban (Parashas Bechukosai), who is of the opinion that we must cast our entire burden upon the Al-mighty.” The Gemara (Berachos 35b) cites similar, seemingly opposing views, yet Rav Chaim Volozhin (Nefesh HaChaim 1:5) explains that they are not really opposing views, but simply that it is dependent upon the spiritual level of the person at that moment. Some of us are not on such a high level that we are deserving of miracles, therefore much physical effort might be required to bring about the desired outcome, while others who are on a very high spiritual level, who put their complete trust in Hashem, might merit miracles.
I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers to this or any other question. I don’t! But I know from experience and hindsight, that the more I trust Hashem, the more I see His guiding hand orchestrating my life. I can also identify times when I have tried to help Him out, thinking I had a pretty good idea, only to made things more difficult and usually delaying my “salvation”.
So, if you need money, go looking for employment, but if you stand firm in your conviction not to work on Shabbat or the Moedim, you will find He will open doors and help you to find the perfect job. The one that allows you the time off, not necessarily your “dream job”. If you need a spouse, put yourself out there and make yourself available, but to the right crowd. If you refuse to back down on your standards, and consider only suitors who share your conviction to live a life of faith and trust in Hashem, He will bring the right one into your life. But it might not be the one you would have chosen, or when you would have liked. You get the idea.
Bottom line ladies, we can’t just sit on our “tookus” waiting for G-d to drop miracles into our lap. We need to do something. We cannot be fearful of being punished for doing the wrong thing. Fact is, we usually learn our greatest lessons through our failures and wrong turns. We just need to be prayerfully looking to Hashem to guide us to the proper path, and not relying on our own wisdom or ideas. When we see doors closing, we need to stop and thank Hashem for keeping us from going down the wrong path. Wasn’t there a song that said “some of G-d’s greatest blessings were unanswered prayers”?
It is so easy for us to lose our focus. And like it or not, we must admit we don’t always know what the best path to take is. We are not always right!!!! We must, instead, make every effort to keep our thoughts and efforts on things of eternal value. And if we truly have bitachon we will see our salvations materialize, even if in ways we would not have chosen. I pray this season of miracles has been a time of blessing in your lives. I hope and pray that we encourage you each week as we seek to find the beautiful, ever-relevant pearls hidden within the weekly parashat. May the remaining days of Chanukah be filled with light, illuminating the miracles around us, many that maybe we overlook every day! And may that strengthen our bitacon in Hashem, Blessed be He! We can rest assured He knows what He’s doing, even if we don’t always understand. Chag Chanukah Sameach!
Be blessed and be a blessing,