|Parshat Beshalach – “Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel.” – Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz
At the end of Parshat Vayeishev after Yosef interpreted the dream of the cupbearer of Pharaoh, Yosef turns to the cupbearer:
“But remember me when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh, and you will get me out of this house.”
However, as we know:
“But the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, and he forgot him.”
“But the chief cupbearer did not remember: on that day. And he forgot him: afterwards. Because Joseph relied on him to remember him, he was compelled to be confined for two years, as it is said: “Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty” (Ps. 40:5). He did not turn to the Egyptians, who are called haughty. [From Gen. Rabbah 89:3]”
The obvious question on this comment of Rashi is well known. Why should Yosef have been punished for making the effort of utilizing the circumstances to try to get himself out of prison?
This is how Nechama Leibowitz worded it:
“Yet, Rashi‘s interpretation is difficult to understand. Does Rashi imply that it is forbidden to trust in human effort? If so, how are we to explain that some of the righteous leaders of the nation did not rely on miracles, but extended the maximum human effort? Yitzchak Arama in his introduction to Parashat Vayishlach sharpens the question, suggesting that it is imperative to engage in human effort and a transgression not to do so:
‘An absence or lack of diligence at a time of need is a transgression …Rather he should act to the limits of his capability and not rely on hope … and every person should see his own efforts as productive…. Who was greater and more beloved to God than David our master who was secured by a trusted prophet, … and nevertheless did not refrain from extending an effort with all of his capability to be saved from the hand of all of his enemies and from the hand of Shaul, … for he knew that God’s salvation and his promises would only be fulfilled through one who fulfilled his decrees with human activity.’
Similarly, Avraham Ben Harambam also suggests that Yosef did not do anything wrong by relying on the butler:
‘And it is possible that there is no disgrace for him (Yosef) in this, for if the trust of the believer is complete in his heart, it does not reduce his faith if he utilizes the normal efforts.’
Most of the commentators have explained that since Yosef was on such a high level of faith it was appropriate for him to act differently and on a higher level than others.
“The Rashash and the Netziv provide a possible explanation of Rashi‘s comment based on a special quality that was unique to Yosef. Yosef, who recognized the direction of God in his odyssey, and in whose mouth the name of God was regularly mentioned, was uniquely required to continue and strengthen this personal quality of faith. From the punishment of Yosef, we see his extremely high level of faith, and the unusual expectations that were, therefore, placed upon him.”
It does seem difficult though that there seems to be such a deep disagreement between the Rishonim as to what is the correct way of behavior for the devout believer in G-d. Are we supposed to strive to what Rashi seems to advocate, total reliance on Hashem alone; or are we to follow the advice of Rabbi Yitzchak Arama and Avraham Ben Harambamand make all the effort we can?
In this week’s Parsha, Beshalach, Bnei Yisrael are facing the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind them. They cry out to Hashem and complain to Moshe. Moshe assures them that Hashem will save them and then Hashem says to Moshe:
“Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel. And you raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and split it, and the children of Israel shall come in the midst of the sea on dry land.“
The commentators have all discussed this strange dialogue between Hashem and Moshe. Why would Hashem say to Moshe “Why do you cry out to Me?” Is it not appropriate for Moshe and Bnei Yisrael to cry out to Hashem at this moment of need? Where were Bnei Yisrael supposed to travel if the sea is ahead and the Egyptians behind? If the plan was to split the sea and then Bnei Yisrael pass through, why didn’t Hashem tell Moshe to first split the sea and then Bnei Yisrael could pass through.
It seems that what Hashem is saying to Moshe is that in order for the salvation of Bnei Yisrael to start they had to do something.
Indeed the Mechilta says: “They have nothing to do but to travel”. The Siftei Chachamim as well points out that if Bnei Yisrael would travel then ‘lifting up your staff’ would split the sea, however if they would not have gone forward then Moshe would not be able to succeed.
The Gemara tells us how, at the splitting of the sea, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea even before it was split. As a result of his initiative, as well, the sea waters parted.
It seems that Hashem’s response to the shouting out of Moshe and Bnei Yisrael was indicating to them that faith and trust in Hashem cannot be a substitute for taking whatever action one can in order to make things happen. No matter what Hashem had promised or said to Bnei Yisrael about their redemption, those promises could only be realized if Bnei Yisrael does their part.
In light of the above I would like to suggest, regarding the behavior of Yosef mentioned above, according to Rashi, that Yosef’s “sin” in trusting in the Egyptian was not because he should have done nothing and trusted Hashem. On the contrary, the problem with putting one’s trust in someone else is because it causes one to stop making the effort oneself. What happened to Yosef once he had asked the cupbearer for help was that he was convinced that this was what Hashem had sent him for his salvation. Day after day he sat in waiting for the cupbearer to do his part while he himself did nothing to make it happen. That was the incorrect behavior.
Emunah and Bitachon in Hashem are not a substitutes for helping oneself and doing everything in one’s power to try make things happen.
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 Shmot 14;15
 Breishit 40;14
 Ibid 40;23
 Rav Yonatan Horowitz in his e-mail shiur on parshat Vayigash earlier this year wrote:
“I have always been puzzled by Rashi’s comments at the end of the parsha. Rashi states that the reason why Yosef remained imprisoned for an extra two years was due to his lack of belief in God as demonstrated by his pleas to Pharoh’s butler to exert his influence to have Yosef released. Why would these efforts by Yosef be frowned upon by Hashem? Any insights as to how to explain this would be welcome.” http://harova.org/torah/view.asp?id=1511
  http://www.lookstein.org/nechama_parasha20_miketz.htm
 Shmot 14;15-16.
 See Rashi ;Ramban; Ibn Ezra; Ohr Hachayim.
 Mechilta, Beshalach 3.
 Bavli, Sotah