Faith and FulfillmentNovember 25, 2013 - 5:00 am
“When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile . . .”—Genesis 41:1
This Torah portion for this week is Mikeitz, which means “at the end,” from Genesis 41:1–44:17, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 3:15–4:1.
Last week’s Torah reading left Joseph with a glimmer of hope. After being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, Joseph found himself in the company of Pharaoh’s officials who had also been thrown into jail. Both the chief cupbearer and the chief baker had strange dreams, which they related to Joseph.
Joseph successfully interpreted the dreams and accurately predicted that the cupbearer would be re-instated to Pharaoh’s service while the baker would be put to death. Joseph recognized the potential for helping one of Pharaoh’s high-ranking officials and asked the cupbearer to help him: “when all goes well with you . . . mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Genesis 40:14). Joseph had a shot at freedom. However, Joseph’s hope went unfulfilled: “The chief cupbearer . . . . forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).
This week’s selection picks up the next chapter in Joseph’s life and begins: “When two full years had passed . . .” The Sages comment that the two years were a punishment for something that Joseph did wrong. Immediately after the two years passed, Pharaoh had his dreams that eventually got Joseph out of prison. Everything was back on track, and God’s plan went into action. But why the two-year delay? What sin did Joseph commit that made him deserving of two more years in prison?
The Sages answer that when Joseph asked the cupbearer to help get him out of prison, he sinned by having insufficient faith in God. Joseph should have relied more on God and less on man’s efforts. While Judaism maintains that a person has to both trust in God and put in his own efforts, Joseph’s blunder teaches us a very important lesson: There is such a thing as putting in too much effort.
Most people these days are living in the fast lane. We speed through life, thanks to the many conveniences and miracles of modern technology. We are faster, more productive, and can do more in 24 hours than our ancestors could have done in 24 years.
Why are we moving so fast? Why are we accomplishing so much? The answer for most of us is that if we do more, we will have more. More effort equals more of whatever it is we want in life. However, the Sages caution that putting in more effort than is reasonable can actually detract from reaching our goals. When we forget that God is in control, we sometimes have to wait until we learn that lesson so we can then reach our goals.
Take time this week to consider where we might be overextending ourselves and need to take a step back. Paradoxically, it’s often when we stop chasing our dreams that we give them a chance to catch us.