Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
'Outstanding Credit Wine'
Last week's Torah reading, Parshas Vayeishev, ends with the royal
wine steward forgetting Yosef's plea to, "mention me to Pharaoh, and
get me out of this jail... Yet the wine steward did not remember
Yosef; he forgot him. (40:14,23)" Mefarshim (commentators) note the
redundancy: "[he] did not remember Yosef; he forgot him." Or
HaChaim says this alludes to the fact that the wine steward's
"forgetting" of Yosef was far from accidental. "He did not remember
Yosef" because whenever he did think of Yosef, "he forgot him" -
After two additional years in prison, the wine steward is forced to fulfil
his promise and mention Yosef to Pharaoh, following Pharaoh's two
troubling dreams, neither of which his wise-men are able to interpret
to his satisfaction. Even so, the wine steward did not hesitate to recall
Yosef in the most derogatory manner:
"And there [in prison] with us was a young Hebrew, a
slave of the [royal] steward of butchers. We related [our
dreams] to him, and he interpreted [them] for each [of us]
in accordance with his dream. (41:12)"
Rashi quotes the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 89:7), which finds great
malice in the wine steward's words: "Young" - He is a young fool! "A
Hebrew" - he doesn't even understand our language! "A slave" - and
a slave is forbidden by royal decree to ever ascend to a position of
Obviously, the wine steward had great distaste for Yosef; at first he
refused to mention him to Pharaoh, and even when he does, he does
so vindictively. Yet we are at a loss to explain what Yosef did to
deserve such unkind treatment! Yosef faithfully took care of the wine
steward while he was in prison. He gave him a very optimistic
interpretation of his dream, which was subsequently fulfilled to the
letter. So why the hatred? - What was the source of his negative
attitude toward Yosef? Are we seeing here, perhaps, the seedlings of
In the times of the holy Ba'al Shem Tov zt"l lived a simple
Jew with a very bitter heart. He had but one daughter, who
was now seven, yet she was yet to take her first step.
Doctors had all but given up hope; she was unable to
move from the neck down, and would likely never leave
her wheelchair. Understandably, her parents' pain was
Her father had heard on occasion of the holy man they
called the Ba'al Shem Tov, who, it was rumored, was
able to perform great wonders and miracles. Yet he had
thus far resisted going to see him. In those times,
Chassidism was still a fledgling movement, and its
opposition was vast. Still, in view of his situation, some of
his friends encouraged him to go and see the famed
tzaddik. However, in order to ensure that no one thought
they were becoming the next "victims" of the Chassidim,
they took advantage of the opportunity to cast aspersions
on its holy leader and founder: "Just make sure," they
warned, "that you bring lots of money with you; it is
rumored that the so-called Ba'al Shem Tov does not
perform his wonders for free!..."
Feeling he had no choice, he saved up a handsome sum
of money, wrapped it in a cloth, and set out to meet the
enigmatic tzaddik. When he entered the Ba'al Shem Tov's
study, he found him sitting at a table. At first, he showed
no sign of noticing that someone had entered the room.
Then, slowly, the Ba'al Shem Tov raised his holy eyes,
gazing upon the bitter Jew and his daughter, who sat next
to him in a wheelchair, motionless. "Here's your money,"
the man said brazenly, setting his bundle down upon the
table, "now do something for my daughter."
The Ba'al Shem Tov gazed at the bitter man for a long
moment, not uttering a word. He then picked up the
bundle of money which lay before him, and heaved it out
the window. Seeing this, the girl's eyes opened wider than
they ever had before. She jumped up from her wheelchair,
burst through the door, and ran outside, where she began
gathering the scattered coins. Her father, overwhelmed by
what he had just seen, was at first unable to move. After
gathering his composure, he too ran out of the room and
began gathering the scattered coins with his now-mobile
daughter. "Come on now," he said nervously, "let's do this
quickly. I bet he'll soon come out and claim this was his
Some favours can be repaid with a simple "thank-you." Greater acts
of kindness call for a more substantial form of recognition; perhaps
a present or a card. But how do you thank someone who has
changed your life? A simple thank-you, a present, a card - none of
these will do. Indeed, there really is no way; as long as one lives, he
will remain indebted. And for some people, this is very difficult to
At some level, when we show appreciation, we do so out of the need
to "get it over with," so that we can get on with our lives. Part of
being human is that we desire independence; we want to feel that
whatever we have accomplished, we did so on our own. If, at times,
we are unable to function independently, and require the help of
others, we show our appreciation in an appropriate fashion, after
which, we hope, we will revert to our previous state of independence
But when the kindness done to us by others is so substantial - so life-
changing - that we realize we have incurred a debt that will not - can
not - ever be repaid, we are at a loss. Sometimes, we simply deny.
Instead of recognizing our eternal indebtedness, we deny its very
The wine steward found himself in such a scenario. "Dreams bear
fruit," say Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 89:8), "according to how they
are interpreted." He owed his life to Yosef, yet he was in denial.
Rather than recognize Yosef's pivotal role in his release from prison
and reinstatement as royal wine steward, he chose to belittle him.
"True, he is an expert at interpreting dreams - but in essence he's a
foolish Hebrew slave."
Every morning, when a Jew arises, he washes his hands, and thanks
Hashem for the gift of another day. "Modeh ani lifanecha, I gratefully
thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul
within me with compassion..." By realizing that our "independence"
is merely an illusion, it becomes easier to recognize, appreciate, and
be thankful for the good and kind deeds that others do for us - big
and small - even if it leaves us with an outstanding debt on our "credit
Have a good Shabbos.