Putting Dinah's box situation aside, Yaakov wasn't punished for taking multiple measures in preparation of his confrontation with Esav. He should have just prayed, but he also sent gifts, separated his camps, etc..

One answer to this is that we learn from here that hishtadlut is important alongside prayer. So then, why did Yosef get punished for asking the winemaker to remember him? (According to Rashi)


I don't think a commentator says that Yaakov was successful in his meeting with Esav due to his hishtadlut, but nobody, seemingly, says he was wrong for his hishtadlut, and so it can be figured that his hishtadlut was a good thing. I think it's the Ramban that says that, from Yaakov's hishtadlut, we learn how to deal with our enemies and not just to rely on righteousness or miracles.

Also, could something be said for Yaakov's formal prayer in the midst of him preparing to meet Esav? It does not seem that Yosef formally prayed to Hash-m in addition to telling the winemaker not to forget him, unless I am missing something?

  • There are those who argue he recieved 2 "extra" years in prison for that action, that he would have been released after 10 years otherwise. No source handy or I would post as an answer. Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:04
  • Wow, I have never heard that. That seems to be arguing in favor of hishtadlut on Yosef's part. However, why did he still have to go through the 2 years? Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:19
  • @SephardisheYid Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Thank you for such an incredible question.
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:45
  • 1
    Please provide the sources for your claims that Yaakov was endorsed and Yosef was punished for Hishtadlus.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 21:16
  • 1
    @ezra Haha, thanks! I really appreciate the warm welcome and I hope to continue engaging in these discussions. :) Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 19:05

2 Answers 2


One is supposed to do hishtadlus but not supposed to overdo it. In the case of Yaakov, each part of the action was different and was part of the proper hishtadlus. That is, prayer, bribery, and preparation for war were separate actions each of which were appropriate ways of setting up the situation.

Yosef on the other hand, asked the butler to remember him. That was the action of hishtadlut and was proper. He then asked a second time , which repeated the action which was improper. There are meforshim who ask:

Since Yosef was punished by a two year delay for asking twice, What would his punishment have been had he only asked once?

The answer is none, since that was proper hishtadlus.

An analogy is given to buying a lottery ticket. One ticket is hishtadlus, more than one is not proper.

The Chazon Ish in his sefer Emunah U'Vitachon says that the act of asking in such a specific way of the butler was an improper histadlus because the character of the butler was such that the act itself was not normal hishtadlus but an act of desperation normally carried out by someone lacking in bitachon. The Art Scroll biography in Chapter 10, Emunah and Bitachon, in the subsectionThe Role of Hishtadlus, quotes the Chazon Ish as follows.

Yosef knew that his rescue was not dependent on hishtadlus, for all is from Hashem. Only, since a person is obligated to act and not rely on miracles, Yosef obligated himself to utilize this opportunity and make his request of the cup bearer. However, since the arrogant by nature do not remember others to do them good, this act [of requesting the cup-bearer's help] is only fit for one who has despaired, for such a person makes every possible effort, even that which is distant from achieving any results. The bote'ach (one possessing bitachon), though, does not do such things, and such efforts are not obligated. To the contrary, engaging in them is like throwing dust upon the radiance of one's emunah and bitachon. Once such an act is not deemed obligatory, it becomes forbidden.

The biographer comments that it was not a lack of bitachon but a mistake in analyzing what hishtadlus required:

Thus, Yosef epitomized the classic botei'ach; however he erred in this single instance.

Torah.org cites the medrash

The midrash comments on this: “‘Praiseworthy is the man who has made Hashem his trust’ (Tehilim 40:5) – this is Yosef – ‘and turned not to the arrogant’ (bid) – because Yosef said to Pharaoh’s butler, ‘If only you would think of me,’ and, ‘mention me,’ he remained in prison an extra two years.”

The article cites the standard meforshim

Many commentaries ask: This midrash appears to contradict itself! First it states that the one “who has made Hashem his trust” is Yosef. Then it appears to say that Yosef was punished for placing his trust in the butler! Most commentaries explain that the first half of the midrash gives the background for the second half. For most people, it would not be a sin to ask the butler for help. “G-d helps those who help themselves.” However, because Yosef usually placed his trust in Hashem to an extraordinary degree, it was a failing on his part to ask the butler for help. (This answer is given by Bet Halevi and others.)

However, it gives an alternative explanation by R’ Azaryah Figo z”l (1579-1647).

He explains that Yosef never placed his trust in the butler, and Hashem left Yosef in jail for an extra two years in order to demonstrate this. He interprets Yosef’s words to the butler as follows:

“Even if you would think of me with yourself when [Pharaoh] benefits you, and [even if] you will do me a kindness and mention me to Pharaoh, the most you could do is to get me out of this building. [That would solve my immediate physical problem, but not my spiritual problem.] For indeed I was kidnaped from the land of the Hebrews [and thus expelled from before G-d]. Here I have done nothing for [my spiritual betterment, and therefore G-d has caused that they] have put me in the pit.”

Without this interpretation, says R’ Figo, one might wonder how the butler could be so ungrateful as to forget Yosef. With this interpretation, however, it is understandable; in effect, Yosef told the butler that his help was not wanted. The reason Yosef said this was to emphasize that the interpretation of dreams comes from Hashem and that Yosef deserved no credit.

Just to make clear that Yosef never expected help from the butler, Hashem caused the butler to forget Yosef and leave Yosef in jail. The last verse of last week’s parashah states, “And the butler did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.” Why the redundant language – “did not remember” and “forgot”? In line with the above interpretation, R’ Figo suggests that the phrase, “and he forgot him,” means that Yosef forgot the butler. (Binah La’ittim: Drush Rishon Le’Chanukah)

Chabad.org points out that if the butler had remembered Yosef immediately and gotten him released, Yosef would not have been raised to become the viceroy of Egypt and saved his family and set up the persecution in Egypt and the Exodus. Hashem had to make the butler forget until it was time for Pharaoh to have the dream in order to call Yosef from the prison.

The answer lies in the dynamics of Joseph’s story itself. What would have happened had Joseph been released in time? What would Joseph have done on the other side? He would have been known as an ex-convict, and would have struggled to find his place within Egyptian society.

As it happened, he waited two short years until Pharaoh had a dream that would require interpretation, and the butler remembered him for his uncanny interpreting abilities. Joseph was brought before Pharaoh and successfully interpreted the dream. Pharaoh was extremely impressed, and appointed him viceroy of Egypt. Had Joseph been released two years earlier, the butler would likely not have known where to find him, and a historic opportunity would have been lost.

Thus, the punishment was that Hashem did not send the dream until the second birthday after the release of the butler. Had Yosef not had the punishment, perhaps Hashem would have sent the dream the next birthday and the butler would have remembered Yosef (who predicted he would be spared) even without Yosef having asked for help.

  • Which meforshim ask that?
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 14:02
  • Simple answer along the same lines: a religious hishtadlut means saying "God I will take the medicine, now will You please heal me." Yosef could have said "ask Pharaoh lehotzi-ani to get me out of here"; instead he said ve-hotzeitani - "butler, you will get me out of here. All about the attitude.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 10:40
  • More on Chazon Ish -- in normal circumstances, asking someone close to the king would be a reasonable attempt. But in their society, people never thanked others for success. So Yosef seeing the butler would be in position was buying one ticket; expecting the butler to acknowledge he wasn't self-made was basically buying a second lottery ticket. R' Hershel Schachter compares it to someone falling apart and trying any quack cure for a disease after conventional medicine has done all it can. Bitachon means I will pray and undergo normal medical treatment, and the rest is in God's hands.
    – Shalom
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 10:44
  • Thank you for the comprehensive and wonderful answer and discussion! :) Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 19:28
  • If you like it, click the check mark and/or the up arrow by the answer. @SephardisheYid Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 20:47

To show you that the Halachah is not universal and when one is allowed to show some personal effort, someone else is expected to fully rely on Hashem.

I would go even further and say that the same person might have different situations - in some of those where he's "expected" to be prepared and in others to fully submit himself to Hashem's will.

Similarly, you could never know if a certain behavior will turn out a big Mitzvah or a misdeed, we can only reveal it a-posteriori after Hashem reacts - there's no way of knowing it apriori. So Yossef thought that Hishtadlus will work for him and it had 50/50 chances, but Hashem had different plans and it TURNED-OUT to be a misdeed.

As you probably noticed, our forefathers were all different in their conduct - some went abroad and some not, some were allowed to have maidservants and some not etc. As their souls were not the same their ways of serving Hashem were different. Moreover, Yaakov himself was very different before and after he stole the Blessings.

  • How does this answer the question at all?
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:27
  • @DonielF How does this does not answer? It asks "why" the answer is Hishtadlus is not universal - it works for some and doesn't for others.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:30
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    I think it's understood that something is different between Yosef and Yaakov - just saying that there's something different doesn't really answer anything. Can you explain what, more specifically, was different? Why specifically Yaakov was supposed to do hishtadlus, while Yosef wasn't?
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 20:46
  • @DonielF If we (and of course Yosef) knew לכתחילה what's different he would not do that. As I said, G-d had different plans for Yossef, there was nothing Halachicly wrong with Yossef following his father. Our speculations are irrelevant, G-d is unpredictable (in this case). It was 50/50 and turned out bad. That's all.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 21:08
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user18323
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:13

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