The Parsha Discussion: Miketz — Human Initiative; Divine Guidance

Posted by Alex Israel on December 14, 2017
Topics: The Parsha Discussion, MiKetz

Does faith in God mean a suspension of human initiative?

Does a God-fearing person just adopt a fatalistic position, certain that “B’ezrat Hashem,” God will take care of our future?

A famous Midrash on the opening verse of our parsha seems to strongly underscore this sentiment.

If we recall, last week’s parsha saw Joseph in jail, interpreting the dreams of the butler and baker. As he foresees the butler’s return to his position, Joseph appeals to him:

Remember me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. (40:14)

However, his hopes were dashed:

The butler did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

And as our parsha opens, “And it was, at the end of two years,” Rashi quotes Bereshit Rabbah 89:3 criticizing Joseph for his self-reliance:

Because Joseph relied on the butler to remember him, he was  incarcerated for another two years, as it is said: “Praiseworthy is the man who made the Lord his trust and did not turn to the haughty.”

I must admit this comment has frequently caused me extreme discomfort.

Really? Please discuss this:

  • Does trust in God preclude human effort?
  • Does Judaism deride taking responsibility? Is human action a lack of faith?
  • We celebrate the miracle of Hanukah, but if the Maccabees had not fought (as we declare in the Al-Hanissim prayer), there would have been no victory and no miracle of the oil!
  • Where is the line between human initiative and divine guidance?
  • Was Joseph wrong?

Click here to read more in this week’s Parsha Discussion, Miketz: Human Initiative; Divine Guidance.

About Alex Israel

Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more.

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