Chapter 41 is all about forgetting, from before its first word, until the naming of Yosef’s sons at its end. What is the Torah telling us about forgetting?
The forgetting in the body of the chapter can readily be seen as a negative phenomenon. When the ugly swallows the beautiful and scarcity swallows plenty leaving no trace or memory of it, it is tragic, and also familiar. Who hasn’t experienced a difficult experience that possessed the demonic qualities of the thin cows and the wind-blown stalks, able to cause a person to forget all the blessings they had known how to enjoy until that point? The impact can be softened by the preparations of a wise Yosef, so that the good can provide a person with some reservoirs from which to draw sustenance, but the memory of those days is almost impossible to maintain alongside a reality of pain and suffering.
But what of the opposite? What do we make of the way the good times make us forget the bad, as they do for Yosef, whose meteoric rise to power allows him to leave behind the memories of “his toil and his father’s house”, as he expresses through his first-born’s name?
The attitude the Torah suggests to this type of forgetting is revealed when we note that Yosef is not the first in the chapter to forget in this way. The butler spent two blissful years back before remembering his promise made to Yosef in the dungeon. This, he tells us, is sinful, and we can add, perhaps impossible. Sinful, in allowing one’s comfort to overcome his commitments made in a time of crisis. Impossible, because those commitments are a part of us, as are the experiences of our darker days. To try to forget them is to forget a part of our identity, which has a curious habit of standing up and demand recognition at the very moments we most want to repress it, as Yosef will discover in the coming chapter.
My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or less. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il