It Was Worth It

Part 3

So why was Yosef punished?

The first possibility is because he was destined to be the ruler of Egypt.

A leader is always held to a higher standard. Even though some immoral actions are overlooked when done by ordinary people, when they’re done by presidents or prime ministers they become unacceptable scandals. Everyone understands that the leader is supposed to be a role model.

Yosef was to be an example for the entire Egypt and beyond, so it was important for him to have impeccable middos.

The other answer is that Yosef was previously on a high level of bitachon. In fact, he knew his brothers may want to harm him and still he went to check on them for his father.

Now that Yosef slipped and started doing hishtadlus to get out of prison, it was worthwhile for him to remain in prison for an extra two years in order for Yosef to get back to his original madregah. Hashem often helps people get back to spiritual heights they have lost.

What’s more, these lessons were so important for Yosef, that the entire history of the world was postponed for two years! Yosef being freed put into motion the entire story of the slavery in Egypt and ultimately the redemption which lead to matan Torah. All this was pushed off for just one person to reach greater heights in bitachon.

Sin the Right Way

Part 2

We find two types of people who sin. The first is “Sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam” (Mishlei 24:16) – Someone who falls into sin, but keeps getting up and trying again. The second is, “Avar vishana, nasis lo k’heter.” (Kiddushin 20) A person who does the same sin twice, and now it starts to seem to him that it’s permitted.

What causes these different reactions to sin?

A person who views life as a learning experience will make mistakes but will know how to move on. Each mistake is evaluated afterwards to see where he went wrong and how to avoid this in the future.

Even if he does an aveira on purpose, he understands that he fell in because he’s human. He doesn’t view himself now as a sinner, rather he understands that this is also part of growing in life and fixing what he has done is a stepping stone towards greatness.

The other reaction is a non-growth mindset. The idea that once a person has done an aveira there’s no going back. This is who I must be. Mediocrity become this persons shitta.

This was Yosef’s mistake. The first time he asked the Sar Hamashkim to remember him was a lack of bitachon. But people make mistakes. The second time showed that he was accepting this lack of bitachon and willing to live with hishtadlus. For this he was punished.

To be continued.

Remember Me

Part 1

After years in jail, Yosef had finally had the opportunity to attempt getting freed. All he had to do was ask the Sar Hamashkim to tell Pharaoh about him. But the Medrash (Yalkut Miketz 41:147) tells us that Yosef made a mistake. He asked the Sar Hamashkim twice to remeber him. Because of this little error, two years were added on to his jail time.

What was so terrible about Yosef’s mistake?

Before we try to answer this, let’s analyze why Yosef wanted to leave prison.

Yosef surely didn’t need to leave prison for physical reasons or because it was unpleasant there. We see many “ordinary” people who go through trying circumstances but are still happy even with the difficulties. They know it’s what Hashem wants for them. Surely Yosef was accepting of his challenges.

Yosef surely wanted to leave Egypt so he could go back to learning Torah from his father as he had done before he was sold. For spiritual desires it should have been a mitzvah to put in effort to be freed! What was wrong with what Yosef did?

To further complicated the matter, Yosef already did hishtadlus by asking the Sar Hamishkin to remember him once. Why was the second time worse?

Why was Yosef punished severely for this tiny lack of bitachon?

To be continued.

There’s No Tomorrow

Continued from previous articles.

After we discussed how great Yaakov Avinu’s bitachon was, there is one area Chazal point out where Yaakov had the slightest lapse in bitachon.

After making arrangements with Lavan, Yaakov tells him, “V’ansah bi tzidkasi b’yom machar.” – “My righteousness will speak for me tomorrow.” (Bereshis 3:33) Yaakov wanted to make a deal with Lavan that would later prove how righteous he was.

But Chazal mention on this passuk, Al tishallel b’yom machar” – “Don’t praise yourself regarding the future.” (Yalkut) Even in such a worthy situation, where Yaakov intention was only to show how righteous he was, it is still seen that he was lacking in bitachon by preparing for the future. Yaakov should have left how Lavan would perceive him in the future to the hands of Hashem.

If preparing for the future of looking righteous is considered a flaw, then certainly worrying about the future for physical needs is something we need to avoid.

What’s With the Sticks?

Continued from previous article.

Now that we saw how great Yaakov Avinu’s bitachon was, we have to answer a seeming contradiction. After Yaakov worked out his payment with Lavan, Lavan separated all the striped and spotted sheep do differentiate which ones belonged to him and which would belong to Yaakov. After this, Yaakov begins placing sticks with markings into the troughs of the animals. The animals then have children with similar markings which were the ones that they agreed would go to Yaakov.

If Yaakov had so much bitachon, why would he need to do such a thing? Why couldn’t he just rely that Hashem would make it work out in the end?

To answer, let’s remember that Lavan switched the deal even after the sheep were expecting. This would make the sticks pointless anyways!

The Alter has an explanation. In order for sheep to produce offspring, they need to be around other sheep with markings and patterns on them. (Although scientifically this has not been shown, science does not know what causes the fertility cycle in animals.)

When Lavan removed all the marked animals, there was nothing to keep up the production of sheep anymore. As a completely faithful worker, Yaakov took it upon himself to provide the needs of the sheep by placing the sticks instead of the marked animals.

It turns out that this was not in any way a lack of bitachon. Rather it was a sign of how trustworthy and faithful Yaakov really was.

Lavan Was No Fool

Continued from previous article.

When Yaakov and Lavan arranged Yaakov’s pay, Lavan kept trying to gain the upper hand. They made an arrangement that only animals born with certain patterns would go to Yaakov. Lavan knew that no matter what pattern they agreed on, Hashem would always make the animals be born with the pattern that was meant for Yaakov. Because of this, Lavan kept switching the agreement once he saw that the animals were expecting, assuming that it was too late for their patterns to change.

We have to realize that there is no such thing as only one party changing an agreement; both sides have to accept the change. This means that every time Lavan wanted to make a change Yaakov agreed!

Yaakov held on strong to his bitachon and accepted whatever terms Lavan wanted because he knew that Hashem would help him despite any agreement with Lavan. The animals changed patterns even while they were about to be born so that they should be in Yaakov’s favor!

And still, Chazal tell us that anyone can achieve this level of bitachon.

You Can Be Like Yaakov

Yaakov Avinu’s level of bitachon was tremendous. Even nature would bend itself for his needs. When Yaakov dealt with Lavan, everything always worked out in his favor even though it was clearly against nature. (As we shall discuss in later articles.)

But still, Chazal tell us something incredible. The passuk (Bereishis 31:11) says, “Vayomer elai Haelokim bachalom Yaakov.” – “Hashem spoke to me (Yaakov) in a dream and said, ‘Yaakov.'” Hashem gave a message to Yaakov and to all his generations. The message was that in every generation there will be people like Yaakov.

Bitachon is not only for the great people. Every single Jew has the ability to have the bitachon of Yaakov Avinu!

Put It In Your Pocket

I was once driving with friends in the car and needed to fill up on gas. As we were getting close to the gas station, my friends tried to pressure me to ask the attendant something odd instead of the usual, “Fill regular, please.” They decided I should say, “Fill decaf!”

I absolutely refused.

I was so focused on not listening to my friends advice, that as I rolled down my window, the words that popped out of my mouth were, “Fill decaf, please!”

In Novorodok, there was a practice to do things like this intentionally. The common example was to go into a pharmacy and ask for nails. (In a time where pharmacies actually only sold medicine…)

Rav Yehuda Leib Nekritz explained the reason for this behavior was to train yourself to have courage in any situation. Once you can make a foolish request intentionally, you start being able to stand up for what’s right even when you feel foolish. This wasn’t something they did everyday, rather just occasionally so they would have the courage “in their back pocket” for when it was needed.

The same goes for practicing bitachon. Once you start and get a little experience with smaller things, you know that you have the ability to have bitachon when bigger things arrive. It’s already in your pocket.

A Hand or a Finger

In Tehillim (121:5) it states, “Hashem tzilcha,” – “Hashem [is like] your shadow.” In what way is Hashem like a shadow?

When you make shadow puppets and put one finger in front of the light, your shadow will have one finger. When you put your whole hand in front, you see a whole hand.

Hashem responds to us like our shadows do. When we rely on ourselves, Hashem responds by only giving us whatever we can accomplish on our own. But when we rely on Hashem’s mighty hand, he responds with His full strength!

It is up to us to choose how to receive Hashem’s blessings.

The Candle from Nowhere

The Alter of Novorodok was once studying bitachon. As an exercise, he went to a hut that he had in the forest and intentionally did not bring a candle*. He sat there learning knowing that it would get dark and he had no way at all of getting any light. The Alter remained in the hut as night fell, leaving the hut completely dark.

After a short while, a man whom the Alter had never seen before arrived at the door of the hut holding a candle! Without a word, the man handed over the candle and hurried off into the forest.

The Alter never found out the identity of the man.

This was the strength of his bitachon, even in a situation where he didn’t need to have bitachon, he knew that bitachon would help anyways.

Bitachon helps in any situation, at any time. and for anything.

As a postscript to the story: The Alter held on to the stub of this candle as a reminder of the power of bitachon. One day, there was a fire that destroyed the Alter’s home, including the candle. His family was very distraught at the loss of the candle stub which meant a lot to them.

The Alter told them, “Until now, we needed the candle to help us with bitachon. It must be that now we reached a level where we no longer require a reminder.”

* There is a slightly different version of this story that is recorded by the Steipeler, however this is the way it is presented in the Alter’s sefer and how it was passed down in the family.