Yosef's Lack of Faith

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Dec 14, 2001
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Parshas Miketz 5761

ויהי מקץ שנתיים ימים; and it was after two years...

The first words of this weeks parsha tell us that two years elapsed between the events at the end of last week's parsha, when Yosef interpreted the dreams of the שר המשקים and שר האופים, the wine-steward and the baker, and the events of this week's parsha, when Pharoah's dream and its aftermath catapulted Yosef to supreme power in Egypt.

And the question arises, if the השגחה - if the Divine plan was to elevate Yosef, then why wait two years; why keep Yosef languishing in prison for so long? Why couldn't Pharoah have had his dream two years earlier?

This question is addressed by Rashi, at the end of last week's sedrah. And Rashi answers that Yosef was wrong in importuning the שר המשקים to remember him to Pharoah; for having thus showed a lack of בטחון, a lack of trust in the רבש"ע. And as punishment for this lack of בטחון, he was made to remain two years in jail.

And Rashi, in this context, quotes a pasuk תהלים: אשרי האיש אשר לא פנה אל רהבים; fortunate the man who does not turn to braggarts; and Yosef, implies Rashi, would have been more fortunate - or, at least, his fortune would have come sooner - had he not placed his trust in the swaggering bluster of the ungrateful שר המשקים.

Now there's a difficulty here. After all, we know that, along with trust in הקב"ה, there must also be human effort. We trust in הקב"ה to provide for us but, at the same time, we don't expect His name to be signed on the bottom of our paychecks. Indeed, the Torah itself enjoins us: ואספת דגנך ותירושך ויצהריך, that while הקב"ה is the ultimate provider we still have to till the soil and plant and harvest our crops; for along with בטחון must come our own השתדלות, our own human effort.

And so throughout our history while we have always seen הקב"ה as the ultimate source of our security yet we have at the same time never been reluctant to make efforts to advance our people's interests in the corridors of political power; for which efforts the Yiddish language has even coined a special term: שתדלנות, which is related to the word I mentioned before: השתדלות, human effort. And practitioners of שתדלנות have included many of our people's greatest men.

And so it would seem to us that what Yosef did in asking the שר המשקים to remember him was simply an early instance of שתדלנות; no different, in principle, that what we do when we pen a letter to our congressman or senator on behalf of Israel or some other Jewish cause. Why, then, did Chazal criticize Yosef for doing so; and why was Yosef punished?

This question was taken up by the Chazon Ish, in a short work entitled אמונה ובטחון. And the answer that the Chazon Ish gives is very important; not only for the light it sheds on a difficult Rashi, but because it illuminates our own path as believing Jews.

It is, indeed, true, wrote the Chazon Ish, that we are required to to accompany our trust in הקב"ה with our own human efforts. After all, אין סומכין על הנס, we are not supposed to rely on miracles; we expect that הקב"ה's aid and sustenance, when it comes, will come clothed in the garb of natural events, and nature requires the application of effort. And there is, therefore, in the ordinary course of events, no conflict between בטחון and השתדלות.

The paths of בטחון and of השתדלות part company, when events are not ordinary; when the situation seems extraordinarilly hopeless, beyond rational, natural remedy. In such a situation - when reasonable השתדלות can go no further - the man of faith says that he has carried השתדלות as far as he is able and obligated, and at that point he turns to the רבש"ע and puts himself in His hands; but a man without faith - who has nothing on which to rely except for his own efforts, must resort to acts of desperation; pining his last hope on a last, desperate cast of the die.

בטחון goes along with reasonable השתדלות; but it has no use for acts of desperation.

And it was for this reason that חז"ל found fault with Yosef. Because the מצרים, as Rashi says, are described by the pasuk as רהבים, boastful braggarts; and it could not, therefore, be expected that a braggart like the שר המשקים, once restored to his high position, would remember the lowly slave whom he had met in jail. And therefore Yosef's plea to him smacked of desperation. And desperation does not accord with בטחון.

This insight of the Chazon Ish has deep relevence for us today. The situation that confronts our people in Israel is, as you well know, fraught with peril. I don't pretend to have a prescription for the government of Israel; thank G-d, they're not asking me anyway.

But I do believe that the Chazon Ish is offering us at least a guideline; a yardstick by which to measure what approaches are appropriate for a people of faith.

And the guideline is this. There is no contradiction between בטחון and rational השתדלות. Rrational השתדלות means assessing our situation rationally, and behaving accordingly. We are not to rely on miracles; we have to make rational strategic decisions; and if reason dictates that we reach some accomodation with the Arabs, then we cannot thumb our nose at reason, and expect הקב"ה to make it good.

But, on the other hand, if no reasonable accomodation is available, if rational השתדלות does not lead to a way out of our difficulties, they we should not resort to acts of desperation, to reckless casts of the die; rather we should remember that at the end of the day יש לנו אב זקן, we have an old Father in heaven, Who did not forget about Yosef in his prison cell, and Who has not forgotten us, either.

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Drosho for Miketz 5761

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