Two words too many

The two words that changed Joseph's life.

Danny Ginsbourg, | updated: 13:59

Judaism Prisoner (illustrative)
Prisoner (illustrative)

We read in the coming parsha that, after he solved the dream of the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers (Artscroll translation!), Yosef said to him(40:14):זכרתני: think of me with yourself, when Pharoah’ restores you to your high post.. AND והזכרתני: mention me to Pharoah,  as then you would get me out of’ prison.

The midrash says:Because Yosef said זכרתני and והזכרתני, to the Chamberlain, he was imprisoned for a further two years.

What was Yosef’s transgression? Surely he saw the Hand of Hashem in the miraculous chain of events, culminating in Hashem showing him the solution to the dream.

Was he not obliged to avail himself of this Divine escape route, to to secure his freedom?

Answer our Sages, in another midrash:’Said Hashem to Yosef:הבטחת עליו: you placed your trust in him to remember you twice, חייך: therefore you will stay imprisoned for another two years!’. 

Expounds the Alshich Hakadosh: ‘By his two ‘improper’ words, Yosef appeared to be somewhat relying on the Chamberlain, instead of putting his trust solely in Hashem’.

Adds Rav David Hofstedter:’In saying to the Chamberlain:’do me a kindness, if you please, and mention me to Pharoah, then you will get me out of this place’, Yosef was, כביכול, appearing to put his fate in the hands of the Chamberlain’.

But why was his punishment דווקא a further TWO YEARS imprisonment?

The ‘usual’ answer: one year for each of the two ‘misplaced’ words, begs the question: why YEARS?

The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh answers:’Two years were added because he said זכרתני and הזכרתני; for each ‘remembrance’, Hashem מנע ממנו: prevented him from being remembered on Rosh Hashanah, which is the designated time for remembrance’.

The Netziv offers a ‘simpler’ basis:’Our sages teach, that after twelve month a person forgets’.

This, presumably, is why we hold a yahrzeit, at the end of each twelve months, so that we do not forget the near and dear, who are no longer with us.

Therefore, we might conclude, that for each of the two words of ‘reliance’ on being remembered by the Chamberlain, Yosef was ‘forgotten’ for one year.

But let us savour the wisdom of the Kli Yakar, to answer our query:’Yosef was imprisoned for a further two years, because his transgression was כפול: double: One year for putting his trust in man, in the Chamberlain; and a second year, for ‘turning his heart from Hashem’.

And, as the period for forgetting is twelve months-as we noted- the Divine punishment was for two years imprisonment.

The  Kli Yakar favors our souls with another ‘suggestion’ על צד הרמז: by allusion:’In saying אם זכרתני: If you remember me (to Pharaoh), he was כביכול, saying: If you remember me, then there is hope; and if not-hope is lost. These two words, therefore, are the heart of the transgression. And, as against them, a בת קול: a heavenly voice proclaimed:תשכח: forget, the numerical value of תשכח being the same as the numerical value of אם זכרתני!

‘Therefore the Judgement was that Yosef be imprisoned for a further two years, for 730 days; which is  the same numerical value as תשכח plus two for the ‘offending’ two words of remembrance’.

Concludes the Sage:’This interpretation is more מחור: clearer than those who see the two years as punishment for the two words, as it ‘solves’ the question, which the other interpretations leave unanswered: why two years, and not months, or days’.

A parting prayer:

May we always be amongst those meriting the ברכה of the prophet (Jeremiah 17:7):’Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem’ for ‘then Hashem will be his security’.

                                                                                                        לרפואת נחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה ונעם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל