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Moses appointed twelve emissaries to scout out the Holy Land and return with a report. The representative for the tribe of Ephraim was Moses’ primary disciple, Joshua. Until this time, the lad’s name was Oshua. But Moses added a letter to his name and called him Joshua.
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Home » Miketz

Miketz : Divine Providence

Submitted by on December 10, 2004 – 6:29 pmNo Comment | 2,807 views

The Jewish quarter in the northern Israeli City, Tzefas, was subjected to a five-month siege during the 1947 war for independence. When the siege lifted venerated rabbis in the community, renown for their piety and sharp wit, had this to say.

G-d’s intervention in Tzefas was both ordinary and miraculous. That Jews prayed and G-d rushed to their aid was ordinary; that the Palmach (Jewish striking force) actually arrived on time was miraculous…. (1)

These wise men understood that everything is under divine providence and though divine intervention need not operate overtly in order to succeed. In fact G-d often prefers to work covertly. In times of trouble he present us with opportunities that we are empowered to pursue on our own. Seldom does G-d openly shatter the order of nature as he did, for instance, in Egypt and at the Red Sea. G-d’s tastes are much more prosaic. (2)

When we fall on hard times and pray to G-d for intervention we are not meant to sit back and wait for salvation to arrive. The ethos of our tradition drives us to be proactive about finding solutions. We believe that we must meticulously seek out the hidden opportunities that G-d has placed in our path. (3) We believe that G-d is prepared to bless our effort but that we are first required to make it. (4)

Where Yosef Went Wrong

In our Parsha we read that Yosef, Yaakov’s eleventh son, was imprisoned alongside Pharaoh’s royal butler. Yosef befriended the butler and carefully followed his case. When the butler was exonerated Yosef beseeched him to appeal to Pharaoh on his behalf. The Torah informs us that the butler forgot about Yosef causing him to languish in prison for two more years. (5) The Midrash explains that this was because Yosef should have placed his trust in G-d, not the butler. (6)

Why was it wrong for Yosef to ask the butler for help? Was he not meant to seek out and take advantage of every opportunity placed in his path? What crime did Yosef commit?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Blessed is the person who trusts the lord and the lord will be his security.” (7) The Midrash explains that this verse refers to Yosef. (8) Yosef fulfilled the first half of this verse but not the second. He trusted G-d to provide an opportunity for salvation. He believed that G-d had placed the butler in his path but once the butler arrived Yosef looked to him for redemption. (9)

The wise men of Tzefas understood that even when divine providence - innerstreamwe seize the initiative and succeed we must search for G-d’s covert hand that orchestrates and choreographs our success. The Palmach fought valiantly to secure the Jewish quarter but it was G-d’s helping hand that enabled them to overcome the almost impossible logistics.

Yosef should have continued to trust in G-d even as he negotiated with the butler. If the butler would succeed gratitude would be due to G-d. The butler was only a medium through which G-d would deliver liberation. (10)

When it doesn’t Work According to Plan

There are times when trust as we might salvation does not immediately appear. Take Yosef’s story as an example. After the butler forgot him he once again placed his trust in G-d, yet he languished in prison for two more years! It is easy to advocate trust in G-d but what are we to say when G-d doesn’t come through?

The answer lies in the dynamics of Yosef’s story itself. What would have happened had Yosef been released in time? What would Yosef have done on the other side? He would have been known as an ex convict and would have struggled to find his place within Egyptian society.

As it happened he waited two short years till Pharaoh had a dream that would require interpretation and the butler remembered him for his uncanny interpreting abilities. Yosef was brought before Pharaoh and successfully interpreted the dream. Pharaoh was extremely impressed and appointed him viceroy of Egypt. Had Yosef been released two years earlier the butler would likely not have known where to find him and an historic opportunity would have been lost.

One Story – Two Approaches

The same theme is reflected in pharaoh’s dream and in Yosef’s interpretation of them. Pharaoh dreamed of seven healthy and seven lean cows that arose from the Nile. In Yosef interpretation, the groups of seven cows represented cycles of seven years. Egypt would experience seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

In his interpretation Yosef continually stressed that the plenty and the famine would flow from G-d. In the dream there was a continual emphasis on the fact that the cows arose from the Nile. The Egyptians worshiped the Nile because it was the source of their irrigation system. Yosef worshiped G-d because he is the source of all. (11)

When nature fails we are disconcerted, why did it fail and how can we correct it? When G-d brings about a famine we believe that it must be for a good reason. Yosef, with his repeated mention of G-d as the source of the coming famine, sought to spare Pharaoh the agony he knew that the foreboding news would bring.

What good did the famine bring to Egypt? It established Egypt as the super power of its time. People came from countries far and near to barter for Egyptian food. While other countries were decimated Egypt flourished. Furthermore, Yaakov and his family were attracted to Egypt as a result of the famine. (12)

When Yaakov came to Egypt the famine ended (13) and the land prospered in ways hitherto unprecedented. (14) Had the Egyptians not abused the Hebrews they would have enjoyed the fruits of these blessings for many years.

In perfect hindsight it is possible to see the famine in the light of the abundance it augured.


  1. Betzel Hametzudah, Meyer Mayberg, Chidekel 1989
  2. See Lekutei Sichos v. XV p.366. (R. MM Schneerson Rebbe of Lubavitch 1902-1994)
  3. See R. Bachya Genasis 40, 14 (R. Bachya ben Asher, 1255-1340 Saragossa, Spain,) and Sefer Pisgamin Kaddishin ch. 3 in the name of the Baal Shem Tov (R. Yisrael Ben Eliezer, 1698 – 1760 Medzeboz, Ukraine,) that great tzadikim are not meant to take the initiative but to rely completely upon G-d. See also Likutei Sichos v. 15 p. 486.
  4. A joke is told of a devout woman who refused to leave her flood besieged home by the car, boat or helicopter that the authorities sent her way. She refused to accept human beneficence and was content to put her trust in G-d. When she did in fact die she approached G-d and demanded to know why he didn’t honor her faith. I sent you a car a boat and even a helicopter, G-d responded, what more could I do?
  5. Genesis 40,23 – 41, 1
  6. Bereishis Rabbah ch. 89, 2
  7. Jeremiah 17, 7
  8. Bereishis rabbah ch. 89 3
  9. Kli Yakar Genasis 41, 1. (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) Taam Vadaas Genasis 21, 1. (R. Moshe Sterenbach, Jerusalem, Israel)
  10. Furthermore, Yosef had no way of telling if his success would bear fruit. For all he knew G-d may not have intended at all to bring about his salvation through the butler. He should have realized that while he was meant to pursue the avenue placed before him he was not meant to rely for certain that this would be the avenue that G-d will choose. In point of fact the butler did bring about his salvation but Yosef may have ben punished for taking it for granted. A story is told of a yeshiva that was in dire need of funds. A student was sent out to collect money but was unsuccessful in his attempts. Several days after his return a wealthy contributor unexpectedly arrived at the Yeshiva with a generous contribution. The Rosh Yeshiva thanked the young man who was sent on the fund raising rounds. The young man protested that he was not responsible for that contribution. The Rabbi responded, you made the effort and because you did G-d saw fit to send his blessing through his own agent. See Taam Vadaas Genasis 21, 1. (R. Moshe Sterenbach, Jerusalem, Israel)
  11. R. Bachya Genesis 41, 16 (R. Bachya ben Asher, 1255-1340 Saragossa, Spain,)
  12. Genesis 46, 1. His father was prohibited By G-d from even visiting Egypt. (15) One might assume that Yaakov was raised in a household that had a very low opinion of Egypt. It stands to reason that if not for the famine Yaakov would never have consented to live in Egypt.
  13. Bereishis Rabbah 89, 9
  14. Rashi Genesis 15, 3 (Shlomo Yitzchaki, Scholar and author, eleventh century France)
  15. Genesis 26, 2

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