In the opening words of this week’s parsha, we find Yosef suffering through a traumatic period in his life – languishing in the prison of Pharoh. A few short years earlier, he was basking in the affection of his father and living in tranquility. Then, in short succession, he was sold as a slave, transferred to Egypt, and after he refused the advances of Potifar’s wife, he was tossed into the dungeon.
In the blink of an eye, however, Yosef’s fortunes took a dramatic and stunning reversal. He correctly deciphered the dream of Pharoh and was catapulted to the lofty position of second-in-command to the most powerful monarch in the world.
The Torah begins this phase in the life of Yosef by noting, “Vayehi mikeitz shnasayim yamim u’Pharoh choleim – [and] it was at the end of two years and Pharoh had a dream … (Bereishis 41:1).”
The End … of What?
Rashi translates mikeitz as âthe end of’ – meaning that the end of a block of two years had occurred. (See Sifsei Chachaimim for alternate translations and implications for the word mikeitz). It would seem, therefore, that the Torah is noting that the end of a predetermined period of two years had arrived with the dream of Pharoh. What was that fixed time, and how did it play into Yosef’s release from bondage?
There is an interesting Midrash that addresses the matter of this two-year time period. The Midrash explains that Hashem placed a finite time limit on the jailing of Yosef. To illustrate this point, the Midrash quotes a pasuk in Iyov (28:3) “Keitz sum lachoshech – He [Hashem] sets a limit to the darkness,” – alluding to the saga of Yosef Hatzadik. Once the time for his exile was over, Pharoh had his dream, setting the wheels in motion for the release of Yosef from prison.
One cannot help but wonder: Is there a deeper meaning in the words of this Midrash? After all, even a simple reading of the pasuk would leave us with the understanding that two years had elapsed before Pharoh had his fateful dream. What does the Midrash add to our understanding of the pasuk?
More food for thought: The final Rashi of the previous parsha (Bereishis 40:23) notes that Yosef had two years added to his prison time because he relied on Pharoh’s chief butler to speak kindly of him to Pharoh and help secure his release. Why would Yosef be faulted for doing everything in his power to get out of the dungeon?
Cause and Effect
Perhaps it may be helpful to think of these events in Yosef’s life in terms of âcause and effect’. Here are two examples of this concept.
My shoes don’t fit well (cause); therefore I developed a painful blister on my heel (effect). I went for a walk in cold weather without a coat (cause); therefore I caught a cold (effect).
Hashem’s Divine Providence
Looking at Yosef’s release from prison through the âcause and effect’ lens allows us a deeper understanding of the profound message of the Midrash. At first glance, we would say that Pharoh had a dream that he could not decipher (cause) and that resulted in Yosef’s release from captivity (effect).
I would like to suggest that the Midrash is informing us that things are not as they appear. “Keitz sum lachosech,” says the Midrash. The end of Yosef’s darkness – his two [additional] years in jail – had arrived (cause); therefore it was time for Pharoh to have his dream which would result in Yosef’s release (effect).
With this understanding of Hashem’s role in the events that affect our lives, we come to see and appreciate His Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence).
Yosef was correct for doing all in his power to secure his release from Pharoh’s dungeon. He was punished, however, for placing his faith in those efforts (see the precise language of Rashi 40:23 to support this idea.)
Perhaps that is why this Midrash drives home this message of betachon precisely while discussing the additional two-year punishment of Yosef – since this came about as a result of his temporary lapse in his perfect faith.
Hashem’s Master Plan – and His Timetable
When we find ourselves, as Yosef did, in trying and difficult times, we understandably would like an immediate and complete solution to our problems. Sometimes, however, it is simply not in Hashem’s plans at that particular time. And as Torah Jews, we must strive to accept His Divine plan for that which occurs to us.
Several years ago, I heard a profound and wise comment from a friend of mine – one that I often quote to others. He and I were discussing the reality of dealing with the setbacks and disappointments in our lives. He told me, “Yankie; sometimes we just need to give Hashem some time.”
What he so beautifully expressed in those few words was the notion that we cannot set the timetable for the resolution of our difficulties. We can and should do all in our power to address the challenges in our lives. At the same time, we can derive comfort from our betachon (faith) that Hashem has preset the correct timetable for the end of these trying times. Once that time arrives – when dawn breaks and the end has come to the darkness – we pray that all our wishes and dreams be realized.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Torah.org.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel’s Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz’s parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.