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“But have me in your remembrance… and mention me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this house.” (40:12) – “Yet the chief butler did not remember Yosef but forgot him.” (40:23)

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Rashi explains that since Yosef put his trust in the butler, he was punished by being confined for two extra years. Rabeinu Bachya explains that undoubtedly, Yosef was a righteous baal bitachon (one who puts his complete trust in Hashem). Despite this characterization, he was punished with additional incarceration because Hashem is especially strict in appraising the actions of tzaddikim. Superficially, this indicates that true “bitachon” (trust) consists of doing absolutely nothing. Apparently Yosef should not have made any active attempt to gain release from prison. This would suggest that hishtadlus (exerting any effort) contradicts the concept of “bitachon”. Throughout Torah literature, however, the contrary is clearly implied. What then did Yosef do wrong?


The answer seems to lie in the result of Yosef’s actions. The behavior of the righteous should serve as a paradigm, bringing about a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s Name). Both Jews and Non-Jews alike should be so moved by a tzaddik’s behavior that they are stirred to praise Hashem, whose Torah has inspired such behavior. Indeed, every Jew should be mindful of this fact. In Yosef’s case, this opportunity was forever lost.


Unquestionably, Yosef realized that his successful prediction of the butler’s fate was due solely to Divine inspiration. Had the butler emerged from prison and publicly attested to the divinely inspired powers of a G-d fearing prophet, it would have been a great kiddush Hashem. Yosef, however, committed a tactical error in that he asked the butler to help free him. Despite the fact that this was a logical act of “hishtadlus“, asking one favor in return for another, it had a negative effect. When Yosef asked for the butler’s intercession, he implied that it was the butler who had the power to release him. What he should have said was, “mention me to Pharaoh and Hashem will bring me out from this house,” thus clarifying the principle that all earthly developments are dependent upon Hashem. Inadvertently, Yosef missed a magnificent opportunity to glorify Hashem’s Name. This is the reason that he was punished.

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