Parshas Vayeishev 5758
Prisoner of Unconscious
Volume 4 Issue 9
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Near the end of this week's parsha, the Torah tells how Yoseph is falsely
accused of adultery and is sent to prison. During Yoseph's detention
"Hashem was with Yoseph, He was endowed with charm and had much favor in
the eyes of the warden. In fact, the warden placed all the other prisoners
in Yoseph's custody and Yoseph was in charge of all their duties. The
warden trusted everything that Yoseph did and, everything that Yoseph
discharged was successful" (Genesis 39:21-23).
In addition to the Divine Providence that cloaked Yoseph, another striking
incident occurred. Back at Pharaoh's palace, the king's was served wine
with an insect floating in it, and a foreign substance was baked into
Pharaoh's bread. The baker and butler were both jailed for those breaches,
and were placed in Yoseph's charge. After a year in prison, theu both
dreamt a strange dream. Yoseph, Divinely ordained, interpreted each dream
in amazingly accurate fashion. He predicted that the baker would be
executed for his infraction while the wine steward would be returned to his
former position and stature. Yoseph, convinced at the power of his
predictions, did not stop with mere interpretations. He implored the wine
steward to discuss his own plight with Pharaoh. "If only you would think
of me when Pharaoh benefits you, and mention me to Pharaoh, then you will
get me out of here," pleaded Yoseph (Genesis 40:14). Yoseph erred. The
wine-steward completely ignored Yoseph's requests and left him to languish
in prison for another two years. In fact, upon mentioning Yoseph to
Pharaoh, the butler even referred to him in a very disparaging manner.
The midrash explains that this response, or lack thereof, was a heavenly
punishment. Yoseph should not have urged a mortal man to be the vehicle of
his release. He should have rather placed more faith in Hashem. Many
commentaries are bothered by this midrash. They ask, "is it not one's duty
to employ the help of others? Why should Yoseph have relied solely on
Hashem? What is wrong with asking for help from below instead of relying
solely on the One Above?
My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, had a keen
sense of direction, not only in spiritual life, but on the mundane streets
of the city as well. He was once in a car together with a colleague, a
Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of a prestigious Yeshiva. That particular Rosh Yeshiva
was a nervous individual and panicked when the driver, a student of his,
lost his way in an area of the city that was not accustomed to welcoming
rabbis with open arms. The young man wanted desperately to get back on the
"Please," pleaded the Rosh Yeshiva of his student, "freg a politzmahn (ask
Reb Yaakov interrupted. "You needn't ask. I know the way." Reb Yaakov
turned his attention to the driver. "Continue for two blocks, make a
left. After the first light, you make another left. Make an immediate
right and you will see the entrance to the highway that we need."
Reb Yaakov's colleague was not convinced. "Please," he insisted of the
driver, "ask a policeman!" The student felt obliged to listen to his Rosh
Yeshiva, and spotted a police car on the other side of the street, two
blocks away. Quickly he made a U-turn, drove the two blocks, and stopped
the officer. "Excuse me, officer, asked the nervous driver, "how do you
get back on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway?"
The officer saw the two sages in the back seat of the car and realized the
severity of the situation. He began to explain the directions. "First of
all, turn back around and go four blocks. Then make a left. After the
first light, you make another left. Make an immediate right and you will
see the entrance to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway."
My grandfather turned to his colleague and smiled. "Nu, my friend,"
whispered Reb Yaakov, "now that a stranger said it, do you feel better?"
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (who incidentally was not the other Rosh Yeshiva)
explains that there are two types of individuals. There are those who have
no heavenly signs, and the thought of Hashem is quite distant from them.
Then there are those whose every action is blessed with the guidance of a
spiritual force. It is almost as if Hashem is walking hand in hand with
them or even as if Hashem is sitting next to them. Yoseph should have
realized that the events that transpired in the prison cell were
supernaturally divine. Within one year of entering prison, he is charged
with the welfare of every prisoner. Then, two Egyptian stewards were sent
to be with him, and each had a dream that Yoseph, divinely inspired,
interpreted in prophetic fashion. At that point, Yoseph should have
understood that his freedom was imminent. Hashem, through His own
mysterious yet miraculous ways would surely get him out of jail. The
wine-steward was extremely impressed when Yoseph's interpretation pro
ved correct. Yoseph did not have to implore the steward twice with
requests for mercy.
When G-d is driving, there is no need to ask for directions.
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