The Butler, the Baker, But No Candlestick-Maker: Vayeshev 2015

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: To what extent would you describe yourself as self-confident? To what do you owe such confidence? Has it increased or decreased over time? How necessary is self-confidence in your day-to-day interactions?

In the book of Genesis, Joseph has moments of remarkable self-confidence (sometimes to the point of chutzpah) and other moments of humility. But whereas his confidence is unbridled when interpreting dreams for his brothers early in the portion, his approach has changed somewhat when he is in prison and explaining the dreams of the butler and the baker.

Text: “[Pharaoh] restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand; but the chief baker he impaled – just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.” (Genesis 40:21-23)

Commentary #1: “Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembers that when he himself was briefly imprisoned, Joseph successfully interpreted a dream he had. At the cupbearer’s suggestion, Joseph is summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and again does so successfully. On both occasions, Joseph refers to God – ‘Surely God can interpret! Tell me [your dreams]’ (Genesis 40:8); ‘God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do’ (41:25) – but he does not pray to God or receive any message from God. – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Commentary #2: “Both their dreams lent themselves to the same interpretation; for the picture of the bird eating the food from off his head was similar to that depicted by the chief butler in ‘I put the cup into the hand of Pharaoh,’ since the king is like a great winged eagle (see Ezekiel 17) … but Joseph was influenced in his interpretation by the past case history of the dreamers, their status at court and the difference between the crimes for which they were sentenced, marking the one for pardon and the other for perdition. We see therefore that the evaluation of the interpretation is determined by the appraisal of the dreamer. – Akeidat Yitzhak

Commentary #3: “If Joseph was indeed counting on a suitable reward for his valuable intelligence work, he badly miscalculated. The butler, who – we know – in fact owes much to Joseph, proves forgetful. From his point of view, he owed his restoration to Pharaoh, not to Joseph. Besides, he quite naturally has no desire to remember his prison days, and once reinstated in his high position, he has nothing to gain by wasting his newly restored access to Pharaoh’s ear in order to do a favor for an imprisoned Hebrew slave. Acting in his own interest, enjoying life in the present, the butler neglects to convey Joseph’s request to Pharaoh. … [Joseph] would have to wait for another occasion to demonstrate his gifts, this time to Pharaoh himself. Learning from his mistaken trust in the butler’s gratitude, next time Joseph will take matters into his own hands.” – Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom

Follow-Up Questions: Miles notes that Joseph gives credit to God when interpreting dreams, even though there are no recorded conversations between the two. Kass counters that Joseph feels let down by God for not emancipating him earlier, which motivates him to rely on his own abilities in later chapters. Akeidat Yitzhak seems to concur with Kass in that Joseph discerns the meaning of the dreams from his own personal observations.

Based on these commentaries, does the fact that Joseph credits God for his interpretation skills indicate a sense of false modesty? In other words, does Joseph really believe that his skills comes from God? Or, perhaps, does Joseph credit God for giving him only the confidence to develop his skills? Do you think that confidence is most effective when it grows within ourselves, or do we need other people (and other beings) to grant us such confidence?

Emanu-El Happenings: As we are about to start Hanukkah, I’d like to thank Marshall Heiden for once again installing the large electric hanukkiah in our synagogue’s front lawn. This hanukkiah enables us to fulfill the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle of the Hanukkah story. Marshall does many things to help our congregation, often under the radar, but always unselfishly. Please thank him when you see him over the coming days, and please join us at afternoon minyan all next week, when we light our wonderful electric hanukkiah.

The Big Inning at the End: We all love the chocolate gelt coins on Hanukkah. They’re relatively inexpensive; offers 24 mesh gelt bags for $12. So let’s use that to put into perspective how much the Boston Red Sox just agreed to pay David Price, an excellent pitcher who is now an extremely wealthy. How wealthy? For his services over the next seven seasons, he could afford to buy 434 million bags of gelt coins. Hope Price is really good at dreidel …

Shabbat Shalom!