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Why Two Years?

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Toward the end of the parshah, we read that Yosef was incarcerated. While there, the sar hamashkim and the sar ha’ofim were imprisoned as well. Both men had dreams one night, which disturbed them the next day. Rashi tells us that they each dreamed the interpretation of the other’s dream.

Yosef approached them and offered, with Hashem’s help, to interpret their dreams. Each relayed their dreams and Yosef interpreted each one accordingly. Both knew that the interpretation was accurate because they had dreamt the interpretation of the other’s dream.

As it was, the interpretation of the sar hamshkim’s dream was that in three days he would be returned to his post in the palace. After relaying this interpretation to the sar hamashkim, Yosef then requested that when he is indeed returned to his post in the palace, he should remember the kindness that he, Yosef, showed him and mention to Pharaoh that he too should be acquitted. The parshah concludes that the sar hamashkim did not remember Yosef – and indeed forgot him.

At the end of this week’s parshah, Rashi says that as a result of Yosef’s outreach to the sar hamashkim for help, instead of relying on Hashem to save him, he was punished and remained in jail for another two years. The meforshim searched for an explanation as to why Yosef’s punishment was to be incarcerated specifically for two more years.

The Kli Yakar and the Maharal both quote an opinion suggesting that the additional two-year sentence was because Yosef said two words in asking the sar hamashkim for help: “hazkartani” and “hotzeisani.” Since he used two words in his request, his punishment was to be incarcerated for another two years. They also quote another explanation: the gematria of the words “im zechartani” total 728; adding to that number the two words im zechartani now brings the total to 730 – the amount of days in two years. The Nachalas Yaakov and the Be’er Basadeh suggest that it was because Yosef said the words zechartani and hazkartani.

The Maharal says that a person only remembers someone for one year. It is for this reason that after not seeing or hearing about another person for a year, one recites the berachah of “…mechayei hameisim.” Based on this, Yosef was hoping that the sar hamashkim would remember him for one year; he could not have anticipated that the sar hamashkim would remember him thereafter. Thus his punishment was that after the sar hamashkim actually forgot him, he would have to wait the amount of time he had hoped the sar hamashkim would have remembered him, namely one more year. This is why Yosef had to wait another two years in jail: one year for the sar hamashkim to actually forget him, and another unit of time – one year – equal to the time he was depending on human intervention.

Another question that the meforshim discuss is the issue that one is permitted to perform hishtadlus. This is to say that while one must have trust that Hashem will bring his salvation, he may do his part in attempting to reach that goal. Why then was Yosef punished for performing the simple act of requesting that another person mention his plight to the king on his behalf? Why did this demonstrate a lack of trust in Hashem?

The sefer, Meged Givos Olam, quotes from HaGaon Rav Yechiel Michel Charlap regarding a solution to both of these quandaries. The interpretation that Yosef offered to the sar hamashkim was that in three days Pharaoh would exonerate him and return him to his post in the palace. It was therefore unnecessary for Yosef to request of the sar hamashkim on that very day that he remember him three days later. There were still two days that Hashem could have saved Yosef before the sar hamashkim was even freed.

One may do hishtadlus – but only in situations whereby it is warranted. In this case, given Yosef’s madreigah, it was not the time for him to perform hishtadlus since his efforts would not have been effective for another two days anyway. Had Yosef made his request of the sar hamashkim two days later there would not have been any issue concerning lack of trust in Hashem. Since he acted two days early his punishment was to be incarcerated for another two years – one year for each day that he pre-empted his request.

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