Behind The Mask – Parshas Vayeishev

Yosef HaTzaddik was in jail for a crime that he didn’t do. The butler and the baker both had a dream that seemed to tie into the outcome of their trials. Yosef saw that they were down and offered to help them. He told the butler that Pharaoh would soon remove him from prison and that he would be back to serving drinks in no time; the baker would be executed. They recognized the validity of Yosef’s interpretations and were amazed. Before the butler was freed, Yosef said to him (Bereishis 40:14-15), “please remember the kindness that I did for you and mention me favorably before Pharaoh so that I can get out of jail. I was kidnapped from my Jewish family and I was placed in jail under false accusations.” This would not be the case; the butler forgot about him immediately and whenever he tried to recall him, Hashem made him forget it again (Bereishis Rabbah 88:7). Chazal say that Yosef was punished with two more years in jail because of his request to the butler.

The famous question is: What did Yosef do wrong? Was he expected to pass up the opportunity to have someone speak on his behalf to Pharaoh? Are we not required to do our part in trying to get things done? Additionally, the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 88:3) makes a perplexing comment here that needs to be understood. “Hashem got a master (Pharaoh) angry at his servants (the butler and baker) to raise up Yosef and Hashem got servants(Bigson and Seresh) angry at their master (Achashveirosh) to bring greatness to Mordechai.” What do the two have to do with one another and what is this all about?! We also find a Midrash regarding Megillas Esther (Esther Rabbah, Introduction 9) that states: “Hashem made a master (Achashveirosh) kill his wife (Vashti) on the advise of his loved one (Haman) and then He made a master (Achashveirosh) kill his loved one (Haman) on the advise of his wife(Esther).” What is this all about?

The answer lies not in what Yosef did or said, but rather in what he was thinking in his heart when he said it. Bereishis Rabbah (89:3) says that “praiseworthy is one who relies on Hashem and does not turn to haughtiness and false avenues (Tehillim 40:5).” Yosef had every right and in fact was required to ask the butler for help; the fault lies in what he was thinking in his heart when he made his request. If he would have thought how Hashem is the Only One that can save him, then this would have been a great deed. He however forgot himself and was thinking that the butler was his only way out. Hashem was strict with Yosef and gave him two more years in jail so that he could contemplate and deeply come to terms with the reality that only the Will of Hashem comes to prevail. Yosef grew tremendously from this lesson and in fact the first words that he uttered upon leaving jail were a deceleration of Hashem’s rulership and greatness. Pharoah asked Yosef, “I heard that you interpret dreams?” Yosef replied, “It is not I, Hashem will grant me the wisdom to do so (Bereishis 41:16).”

The above quoted Midrashim focus on the theme of reversed roles. They show the power of Hashem to do what He wants in a manner that He pleases. He can move a king or simpleton in any way and for any purpose, even contradictory roles. That is the entire lesson of Megillas Esther, “V’nahapoch Hu, it was revered (Esther 9:1),” a day that was intended by the enemy to be one of destruction of the Jews was miraculously flipped to be a day of victory, inspiration and celebration for the Jews.

Indeed, if we wish to have blessings in life we are taught to give credit to Hashem Who is the source of all blessings. When we turn to Him and recognize that He is the One behind all of our bounty, we have uplifted and elevated our lives. He may use other messengers to deliver goods, but we must not get distracted by the mask. We strive to only pray to Him for our needs. We are sure to thank Hashem for all of gifts and bounty in any way that He delivers them.