When Hishtadlus Goes a Bit Too Far by Yitzchak Richmond


The Midrash Rabbah (89:3) teaches us that because Yosef put some of his faith in the Sar HaMashkim, Paroh’s butler, he was punished with two more years of imprisonment. This is very troubling, because Yosef merely mentioned the Sar HaMashkim when explaining his salvation to Paroh, and yet he was punished. After all, Rabi Yishmael (Berachot 35b)  learns based on the Pasuk in Shema that states “VeAsafta Deganecha VeTiroshecha,” “And you will gather in your grain and your wine,” (Devarim 11:14) that one should work the way of the land and use one’s own intervention. Yosef trusting in the Sar HaMashkim was the standard way to get out of jail. Why, therefore, was Yosef punished so harshly for trusting the Sar HaMashkim, what happened to Hishtadlut?

The Beit HaLevi explains that ideally we should have complete faith in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, but because of our lack of ability to do so, it has become permissible to have human intervention. We see this from the saying of “MiToch SheLo Lishmah Ba Lishmah,” that while initially someone does not have pure intentions he will eventually. However, it is permitted to have only a limited amount of Hishtadlut, active human intervention, not too much, and beyond what is necessary for someone is prohibited. For instance, if one could get by with very little Hishtadlut, but he intervenes too much, Hashem will ensure that the person will have to even work harder that he originally would have.

Yosef, from beginning to end, was surrounded by instances that were beyond the ordinary. For example, he was thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions but emerged unharmed, and he traveled to Mitzrayim in a caravan of spices, which normally would be filled with soot. Yosef knew very well that when the Sar HaMashkim joined him in prison, it had greater significance than just sharing a cell because he was Yosef’s ticket to get out. Yosef should have had complete, unwavering trust that Hashem would completely provide for him, but instead he failed and used Hishtadlut when it was unwarranted.

The Gemara (Berachot 35a) derives the source for Berachah Rishonah, blessings before meals, based on that if one makes a Berachah once he is full, how much the more so should he make a Berachah when he is hungry. However, this Kal VaChomer seems very strange, for one would be much quicker to offer thanks for something after he receives it then beforehand. However, as Rav Dov Ber eloquently answers that as Jews and Ma’aminim Binei Maaminim, believers the sons of believers, this Kal VaChomer makes perfect sense. It is much more meritorious to offer thanks beforehand because when one does so he expresses his trust in the Ribono Shel Olam.

Yosef’s punishment, albeit at first glance puzzling, was extremely important because it communicated the vital concept of believing in HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is in our core to have complete trust in Hashem, manifested whenever we make a Berachah Rishonah. It is always important for us to make use of our own Hishtadlut, but at the same time we must know its limits. We should learn from Yosef’s mistake to always trust in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, even in dark times such as when the Chashmonaim struggled against an external and internal enemy, and ultimately we shall prevail.

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