It's at the very end, the last pasuk of Vayeshev, B'reshit 40:23. "But he, the chief cupbearer [of Pharaoh] did not remember Yosef; he forgot him."
There is much that can be learned from this one simple sentence. Many lessons to be taught. Many questions to be asked. Why did the cupbearer forget Yosef? Was the accuracy of Yosef's dream interpretations for the cupbearer and the baker merely happenstance? Were the cupbearer and the baker only willing to traffic with a lowly prisoner such a Yosef only because they themselves were in dire circumstances? Were they slumming for some comfort? Or might they have seen Yosef, as a respected household slave overseer wrongfully imprisoned, as a fellow traveler in circumstances not unlike their own? And in those times, surely people who could interpret dreams accurately drew some respect and admiration. (Perhaps such people were a dime-a-dozen, but surely not all with the accuracy of Yosef.)
We know, from our knowledge of how the story continues, that the cupbearer did indeed recommend Yosef to Pharaoh. So why does the Torah tell us at this point that the cupbearer did not remember-and emphasizing this fact by saying both "he did not remember" and "he forgot" ? Are we to understand there is a difference, more than semantic in nature, between not remembering and forgetting?
Perhaps we might forgive the cupbearer for not remembering, or for just forgetting - after all, he must have been quite relieved to be restored to Pharaoh's favor, and to not have suffered the fate of the baker. In his relief and joy, it's not inconceivable that he might not remember, or that he might forget what Yosef had asked him to do - remember him to Pharaoh. But to "not remember" and "to forget" ? Sounds like more than simply failing to recall due to excitement, stress, or other distractions.
It would be easy to come down heavily on the cupbearer-to chastise him for failing to remember Yosef, as he was asked. It would be a simple way to thank Yosef for helping to cheer him when he was in prison with that cheery dream interpretation. And there is a teachable lesson for our children and ourselves here. To not forget the distress of others in our own happiness. It is a lesson oft repeated in Judaism. We were reminded of it by Gd at the reed sea when we failed to respect the horror that had befallen the Egyptians that day.
Perhaps it's a lesson not to be just a fair-weather friend. Or, for that matter, a stormy- or bad-weather friend. The cupbearer used Yosef to provide him comfort when he needed it, and then cast him aside, seemingly.
But again we are reminded that we know how the story continues-and the cupbearer does indeed mention Yosef to Pharaoh-though at a time of greatest advantage to the cupbearer. Surely we cannot entirely fault him for this. Most of us might do the same-saving information that might benefit another for a time when it benefited us the most as well. But what kind of mitzvah is that? Is not the greater mitzvah sharing the information that would benefit another in the most timely fashion so that the other might benefit, with less regard for our own self-interests?
So yet more lessons that can be learned from this one simple sentence. And yet more to go.
Yosef himself tried to use his dream interpreting to his own advantage-by asking the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh. Of course, Yosef, the righteous, did not require this as a promise in advance of the dream interpretation. But he did most carefully mention it after preceding the request with a truly positive dream interpretation. Surely an advantageous moment for Yosef to do so. And her we have the nub of the matter. Yosef was trying to change his circumstances. He had been ill-treated by his brothers, imprisoned by the wiles of a sexually frustrated housewife. Yet through all these things Gd had been with him, and seen that he managed reasonably well. Consider how many others might have been as fortunate as Yosef in similar circumstances with Gd right there looking out for them. Yet that was not enough for Yosef, it seemed. He wanted to speed things along. He knew his brothers were destined to bow before him, he knew he was destined for greatness. He couldn't sit around rotting in this prison simply because he would sleep with the boss' wife! Not Yosef.
Yes, that Yosef. You know. The righteous one. The one who ratted on his brothers all the time (although notice the Torah says nothing about Yaakov acting on Yosef's tattle-tales and punishing his other sons.) The one who used every opportunity to boast in front of his brothers-even going so far as to relate on particularly haughty dream at the dinner table! The one who flaunted that beautiful coat. Sure, he paid for his conceit. But had he learned his lesson as a result? Of that I am not sure!
Yosef was trying to push things along. Trying to push his own agenda. But what the Torah is telling us when it says that the cupbearer both "did not remember" and also "forgot" Yosef, it is really telling us that Yosef was trying to operate on a timeline in conflict with Gd's. And we would all do well to heed the warning and not try and assert our own desires over and above Gd's plans. Gd was not ready to see Yosef out of prison yet. The plan was not fully matured in time. The cupbearer both "did not remember" and also "forgot" Yosef because Gd made sure he did, lest humans find a way to circumvent Gd's timetable. (This opens up a whole area for discussion into the rather contemporary idea of a "limited" deity. But then, if Gd was unsurpassable, why all the fuss with migdal bavel, the tower of Babel? Hmmmmm.)
We may be clever or cunning. We may be lucky. We may be righteous. We may be mighty. We may be powerful. But as Haftarah Vayeshev tells us, it is
"Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit---said the Lrd of Hosts." We may try to rival Gd in might or power - and perhaps with our modern weapons we could - but surely our spirits are no match for Gd's spirit. Let's stay humble and let things play out in Gd's time.
May your home be filled with the light of Chanukah, and may the Shabbat Bride bring joy and peace to you and yours.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
© 2000 by Adrian A. Durlester
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