In Parshat Miketz, Breisheet 42, Yosef’s brothers (aside from Binyamin) are sent down by their father, Yaakov, to Egypt to bring back food as there is a famine in the Land of C’naan. When they arrive in Egypt, Yosef recognizes them right away, but they don’t recognize him. He accuses them of being spies and locks them in prison for three days before releasing them.
Why three days?
In the midrash, Breisheet Rabba 56:1, we see that the concept of three days is used many times in the Tanach:
In Breisheet 22:4 we read: “On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” After two days of searching for the place where he would bring up Yitzchak as a sacrifice, God relieved Avraham from being tormented and showed him the place. It is written in Hoshea 6:2 (in reference to the resurrection of the dead), “He will revive us from the two days, on the third day He will set us up, and we will live before Him.” We learn from here that God will not make a tzadik (righteous person) suffer for more than two days.
The midrash then brings our case:
On the third day of the tribes: It is written in Breisheet 42:18 “Yosef said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live; I fear God.” On the third day Yosef let them out of jail so that they could bring food back to their families.
The midrash continues:
On the third day of the danger of the spies that Yehoshua sent to check out the land: As it says in Yehoshua 2:16 “And she (Rachav) said to them, Go to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you, and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned: and afterwards you may go your way.” On the third day, the pursuers would give up and the spies would be saved from danger.
On the third day of preparation and expectation as in the giving of the Torah: As it says in Shmot 19:16 “It came to pass on the third day when it was morning, there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, and the sound of the shofar was very powerful, and the entire people in the camp shuddered.” After which, they received the Torah.
On the third day of Yonah’s anguish (Yonah 2:1) “Now God had appointed a great fish to swallow up Yonah. And Yonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.” After that, the fish spit him out onto dry land.
On the third day of the distress of those who came up from the Babylonian exile to build the Second Temple: As it is written in Ezra 8:32 “And we came to Yerushalayim and stayed there three days.”
On Esther’s third day of fasting, the salvation began to come through: As it says in Esther 5:1 “Now it came to pass on the third day, Esther clothed herself regally…” This refers to the royalty of her father’s house who were descendents of King Saul.
In what merit does God always save the righteous on the third day? This is an argument of the Rabbis and Rabbi Levi. The Rabbis say: in the merit of the third day of the giving of the Torah, as it says “It came to pass on the third day when it was morning…” (Shmot 19:16) Rabbi Levi said: in the merit of the third day of our father Avraham, the first one in the Torah who saw salvation on the third day as it says “On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.” (Breisheet 22:4) What did he see? He saw a cloud attached to the mountain. He said: it appears that this is the place where the Holy One told me to offer up my son.
In last week’s Parsha, Vayeshev, we also read about three days: Yosef interpreted the dreams of the chief butler and chief baker and explained that in three days the butler would be restored to his position, but the baker would be executed.
How does this fit in with all of the other “three days” that had happy endings?
The midrash, Breisheet Rabba 56:1 was only referring to righteous people being saved on the third day. Breisheet Rabba 88:1, explains that the third day, was in fact supposed to be a happy day as it was Pharaoh’s birthday and he was inviting all of his workers to the party. It should have been a day for pardoning, as he did for the butler, not a day for execution and Pharaoh was originally planning to pardon both of them. However, once the dream was interpreted, Pharaoh had to follow through with what was already declared and execute the baker.
We see from here that the three day rule only works for the righteous. Was the butler an exception? Even if he was not righteous up until that point and even if he forgot about Yosef for two years when he went back to work, the fact that he eventually did recommend Yosef to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams which ultimately did get Yosef out of jail and on the road to kingship is not something to sneeze at. Also, the fact that he said in Breishhet 41:9 “I recall my sins today” can also be looked at as a form of repentance.
May we be counted with the righteous and hear good news by the third day.