Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on December 14, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

And it was at the end of two years that Paroh dreamt[1]

A midrash[2] reads like a conundrum: “‘Happy is the person who places all his trust in Hashem’[3] – this is Yosef, ‘and does not turn [instead] to the proud’ – because Yosef asked his cellmate to remember him [and help free him] two more years were added to his incarceration.” What’s going on? The midrash first praises Yosef’s bitachon, and then turns around and finds it faulty! Was Yosef a true baal bitachon, or was he not?

On the way to an answer, we get a boost from a different pasuk: “Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem; Hashem will be his entrusted One.”[4] The second half of the verse seems to be a needless repetition of the first!

Or maybe not. We see people placing their trust in Hashem – to a point. If that trust doesn’t quite pay off the way they want, they switch gears, and start putting much more emphasis on a newly found Plan B. Therefore the pasuk emphasizes, “Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem,” and even when things do not work out the way he wanted, nonetheless, “Hashem remains his entrusted One.” Despite his disappointment, his bitachon does not waver. This as well is the meaning of the pasuk in Tehillim: Happy is the person who places all his trust in Hashem, and does not turn to the proud even when he meets with failure.

Yosef remained steadfast in his bitachon throughout his years of exile and pain. However, he faltered in the end, and began to rely on the efforts of the chief wine steward. The midrash praises him for his many years of bitachon, but faults him for his brief lapse at the end.

We could explain the pasuk “Blessed is the person who trusts in Hashem; Hashem will be his entrusted One” a bit differently, in a manner more complimentary to Yosef. We observe three kinds of people. Some people place all their confidence in people and things around them. Even when their plans meet with devastating failure, they fail to learn the lesson and turn to Hashem. They simply move on to other people-centered plans.

Others at least absorb the lesson, and learn from their mistakes. When all other approaches fail them, they turn to Hashem as their final resort. They become baalei bitachon, but imperfect ones.

Yosef, however, was blessed. Through the long years of his ordeal, he was confident only in Divine providence, and not in the assistance of human beings. True, he was distracted in the end by the possibility of the intervention of Paroh’s wine steward – but only for a short while. He quickly resumed his full bitachon in Hashem alone. He trusted Hashem, and He remained His entrusted One.

Still another way of looking at our midrash: Note that even when Yosef entreated the wine steward to help him, he only asked for a small thing. He asked that the wine steward make the case that Yosef had been unjustly imprisoned, and should be released from custody. Yosef could have seen his accurate interpretation of dreams as a path to greatness. He could have urged his cellmate to explain to Paroh how talented and inspired Yosef was, and how useful he could be to the throne.

Yosef sought none of that. His first, limited goal was simply to be released. As far as his second, ultimate goal of returning to his father’s house, he placed all his trust in Hashem. He would certainly provide the way.

As it turned out, Yosef was shown that he was entirely correct about his second goal. Hashem took good care of that, while his first goal – being released – was achieved despite the wine steward quickly forgetting about him.

This, then, is what the midrash may mean: Blessed is the person who places absolutely all of his trust in Hashem, without exception. And unlike Yosef, who in small part, trusted his cellmate to at least work for his freedom, even though he trusted Hashem for his major goal. The exception that Yosef made did not end so happily for him, since he had to languish in prison for another two years.

  1. Bereishis 41:1
  2. Bereishis Rabbah 89:3
  3. Tehillim 40:5
  4. Yirmiyahu 17:7