Languishing in Prison, He Went Beyond Himself

At this point in his life, Yosef had already experienced enough hardship, disappointment, and stress to make him angry at the world. Yet, he still wanted to be helpful. We each have the power to be a Yosef.

By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier – The Beis Medrash

In this week’s sedra, we read the dramatic story of Yosef tending to the needs of the king’s baker and butler while they were in prison together. The Torah tells us in detail how one morning he noticed that they looked distressed. “Why are your faces sad today?” he asked them. They shared their disturbing dreams with him, which he then interpreted. 

The reason the Torah tells us this is so that we understand how he came to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams in next week’s sedra. The question, however, is, why all the details? The Torah could have just written that Yosef interpreted the dream of a minister who in turn brought Yosef to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.

Also, what did Yosef mean by asking, “Why are your faces sad today?” Did Yosef, of all people, not understand the distress of lingering in prison indefinitely, awaiting the king’s verdict?!

At this point in his life, Yosef had already experienced enough hardship, disappointment, and stress to make him angry at the world. First, he was abducted and sold into slavery. This experience itself would be enough to crush a person, how much more that it was done to him by his very own brothers! Then, after he finally worked his way up and became successful, he was falsely accused of violating his master’s wife. How humiliating! How infuriating!

Now he’s forced to tend to the needs of two ministers of the very kingdom that falsely accused him. Any other person would begrudgingly do their duty but just the bare minimum, not more. When Yosef came to serve them that fateful morning, he noticed a slight change in their faces; it wasn’t the usual look of worry. He could have ignored it. Firstly, they were royal servants, and it went against the protocol to chat with them. Moreover, Yosef had all the reasons in the world to be focused only on his own sorry fate with no space for anyone else’s troubles.

Yet, Yosef was different. He felt that every human being created by Hashem deserved to be as happy as possible, and although he himself was suffering, he still wanted to be helpful.

The Rebbe talked [1] about this several months after the Yom Kippur war in 5734 (1973) and said that a Yid must take a lesson from Yosef. We must make it our business to notice the needs of a fellow Yid and reach out to help them, especially their spiritual needs. True, we can often find good reasons for why we’re exempt from offering a fellow Yid to put on tefillin, light Shabbos candles or the Chanukah menorah. Maybe it feels socially out of place to ask someone why they seem down, or perhaps we’re simply focused on our own challenges.

Yosef is our inspiration to go beyond ourselves.

This is even true for children, the Rebbe said. They too must be taught to notice the needs of their fellow Yid and the great impact their kind words and deeds can have.

Every person and certainly every Yid deserves to be cared for. We mustn’t underestimate the power of one “Good morning,” one smile, or an offer to do a mitzvah.

Yosef’s sensitivity to another person’s plight, and his decision to act on it, changed the course of his life and of the world. He became viceroy of Mitzrayim and saved the world from hunger.

We each have the power to be a Yosef. Our sensitivity and our decision to act can change the course of someone’s life and indeed the entire world! One genuine, simple act of ahavas Yisroel can be the final mitzvah to tip the scale and bring Moshiach.

[1] Sichah of parshas Miketz, 5734 (1973)

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