Parshas Miketz – Bitochon and Hishtadlus

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Yosef was imprisoned in a dungeon for many years for a crime he never committed. He had been framed. Finally, an opportunity arose whereby there was a small glimmer of hope that he could free himself from the confines of his dark cell. The king’s wine maker, whom he had met in prison, had a dream that Yosef interpreted for him: In only three days he would be released and regain his position as the king’s personal wine maker. What a perfect opportunity for Yosef. “Please,” he begs of him, “try to find the proper moment to plead my case to the king. Remember your old buddy here in jail, and do all in your power to try to get me released. You know I’m really innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Yosef does what anyone else in such a terrible situation would do. He tries his very best to try to get out of the deep black dungeon in which he is imprisoned. Yet, because he put his faith in the king’s wine maker rather than having bitachon in Hashem, he now must suffer an additional two years in jail. The posuk says (see Rashi): A person must not put his trust in a human being. He must trust only Hashem Himself.

Actually, the first part of the Medrash seems to contradict the second part. The Medrash begins by saying that Yosef is considered the true ba’al bitachon. Yet in the very next line the Medrash criticizes Yosef for turning to others for help. Doesn’t this show that he was not the great ba’al bitachon which the Medrash had just previously portrayed him? The Medrash seems to contradict itself!

This entire concept seems rather strange. Does this mean that a person who is arrested is not permitted to hire a lawyer to defend him? Does this mean that if someone is sick he may not go to a doctor for medicine? Didn’t the Torah itself give permission to a doctor to cure? Is it a lack of faith in Hashem if one does something to help himself? Must a person just sit back with his arms folded and simply allow everything to happen on its own, without interfering in Hashem’s business in the slightest?

Is there no such thing as hishtadlus? What was Yosef’s great crime? Why wasn’t he allowed to ask someone to intercede in his behalf to the king? Why is this seen as a lack of faith on his part? If a person uses a gun to protect himself against his enemy is it seen as a lack of faith? Is he required to just stand there and let the other person shoot him? That’s absurd! Didn’t even Yaacov prepare himself for war against Esov and didn’t stand with his hands folded and just daven?

Perhaps the answer lies in the very posuk which the Medrash (and Rashi) quotes (see Tehillim 40):

V’al tifnu el ha “Rihovim”, comments Rashi, refers to the Egyptians. Rashi explains that the word itself means conceit, boastfulness or haughtiness. The Egyptians were a very haughty people. In fact, Egypt was known to be the “magic capital” of the world. With their great magical powers, the Egyptians would try to show that they were so great that they could even defy G-d Himself. The Gemorrah says that magic seems to be able to defy even the heavenly powers. This, of course, gave them their great arrogance and haughtiness. They thought they had full control over everything, and that even Hashem Himself was supposedly in their power. No one could tell them what to do. After all, a person who is a big shot thinks he’s better than everyone else. Whatever the Egyptians did they took the full credit for themselves. Hashem got absolutely no credit at all. They were so haughty that their King Pharaoh had the nerve to declare:

“Who is G-d that I must listen to Him?” He thought he could defy Hashem Himself. Hashem, of course, soon taught him the truth.

The Ramban (in Parshas Shemos) says that Pharaoh believed in the existence of G-d. He just denied His ability to effect control over His beings. Pharaoh assumed that once the laws of nature had been enacted they could not be changed. G-d had absolutely no control over man, and therefore man could do as he pleased.

The mistake of those who served avodah zoroh was that they believed that Hashem had given full control and power to His servants such as the sun, wind, etc. to do as they pleased. They thought that by praying to G-d’s servants one could get them to increase their benefits to mankind. They were under the mistaken notion that G-d had absolutely no interest in what happens down on earth, and after having created heaven and earth He abandoned it and let it run on its own. They believe it’s all a “free for all” and man can do whatever he so desires. There’s no reward or punishment. Pharaoh believed that there would not be any retribution for man’s actions, whether he does good or bad. The purpose of the ten makkos was to set him straight and inform Pharaoh that he was completely mistaken. G-d maintains full control of the entire universe at every moment. True, man was given the freedom of choice to do as he desires, but he will ultimately pay dearly for every one of his actions. Man will be held accountable for his every move.

Pharaoh’s theory can be compared to a little mouse which is being taught to go through a maze. The scientist, who is training the mouse to follow a certain path, rewards the mouse by throwing it some food every time it pulls a lever. The mouse, of course, thinks that he is the one controlling his human experimenter. After all, every time he pulls the lever he forces the man to give him a pellet of food. So too, Pharaoh thought that with his great magical powers he had full control of G-d, and he could get Him to do as he wished. Little did he realize that he was no more than the little mouse.

We find that the Torah does not permit a Jew to do magic or engage in astrology. Perhaps one of the reasons is because their use could easily lead a person astray; he could think that one can control events or change his destiny on his own, without Hashem’s decree.

A Jew should not fear the heavenly signs even though they give the impression that they actually control all future events. Even Goyim, who do believe that there is a G-d Who created heaven and earth, don’t believe that He has constant control over every event. Their theory is that He has abandoned its control to others, such as the heavenly bodies or the laws of nature. Little do they realize that all of nature is in Hashem’s control at every moment. Even the heavenly bodies are totally powerless to do anything on their own. Belief in the art of astrology or magic can chas v’sholom lead one into false assumptions, and therefore it is forbidden to us.

A person must always know that no matter what his source of help seems to be – whether a doctor, a lawyer, a judge – it is all actually the Hand of Hashem in disguise. Even when one takes medicine, he must put his total trust in Hashem Who is the true healer and not in the medicine. He must realize that it is only because Hashem wants it so, that the medicine can actually cure. A doctor must always realize that he is only G-d’s messenger – no different than a malach sent by Hashem to effect a cure. He is only the messenger through whom Hashem sends His blessings. A person who is able to help another person must always realize that the success of his mission lies only in the Hands of G-d! He can take no credit for himself.

The answer to the Medrash can now be easily understood. Even when Yosef turned to the winemakers for help, he had full trust that it was who Hashem would help him. He certainly realized that the winemakers could not help him on his own. It was simply Hashem channeling His help through the winemakers. There was absolutely no lack of faith in Hashem on his part. Yet he is taken to task for turning to the “rihovim” the Egyptians. By using their services he is encouraging their haughtiness.

If the king’s wine maker would have remembered Yosef and brought about his release, then he would have taken all the credit for himself. Yosef should not have used the aid of a person who would dare to deny that this was actually nothing but the Hand of Hashem. Giving any credence to the “rihovim” only makes it appear as if they, after all, have the power, and not Hashem.

Perhaps the lesson is that even when making hishtadlus, one must be careful not to do it in such a manner that Hashem’s real power is denied in any way. Choose a doctor who is humble enough to know that it is really all in Hashem’s Hands. Don’t seek the help of those who have the haughtiness to declare that they alone are able to help, for we are thereby encouraging their haughtiness. Their success makes them more arrogant, as they claim full credit for their actions by further denying and flaunting Hashem’s power. Certainly we must always realize that no matter how or through whom we are being helped it is all in reality Hashem Himself.