Why did it take the chief butler two years to mention Yosef?

At the end of Parshat Vayeshev, after Yosef interpreted the chief butler’s dream, he made a request (Breisheet 40:14-15) “Remember me when things go well with you. Please deal kindly with me and mention me to Pharaoh and take me out of this house (jail). I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and here I have also done nothing that they should have put me in this dungeon.”

In the last verse of Parshat Vayeshev (Breisheet 40:23) we read: “However, the chief butler did not remember Yosef, but forgot him.”

Parshat Miketz begins two years later with Pharaoh’s dreams which nobody is able to interpret. The chief butler finally speaks up (Breisheet 41:9-14):

“I recall my sins today: Pharaoh was enraged at his servants, and he placed me under guard in the house of the chief executioner; me and the chief baker. We had a dream on the same night, I and he, each according to the interpretation of his dream, did we dream. With us there was a young man, a Hebrew, a slave of the chief executioner. We told him about our dreams, and he interpreted our dreams, he interpreted each man’s dreams accordingly.  It came to pass, that as he interpreted for us, so did it occur; he restored me to my position, and him he hanged.” Pharaoh sent and summoned Yosef. They hurried him out of the dungeon, but Yosef first shaved and changed clothes and then came to Pharaoh.

Why did it take the chief butler two years to mention Yosef? Why did it say both that he did not remember Yosef and that he forgot him?

From the plain reading of the text, the chief butler listened to Yosef’s request to remember him and mention him, but never committed himself to mention him to Pharaoh. From a logical point of view, it makes sense that once he was released from prison he wanted to move on with his life and not think about his experiences there. In addition, it would have been awkward to approach Pharaoh and rehash the incident of why he was thrown in jail and the fact that he was looking to help the other inmates.

According to Rashbam, God specifically wanted the chief butler to forget Yosef until the time that God was ready to perform miracles for Yosef.

Breisheet Raba 89:3 explains that it was necessary for the chief butler to forget Yosef for two years so that Yosef would rise to power due to Pharaoh’s dreams which Yosef interpreted to mean that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. In this way Yosef was immediately chosen by Pharaoh as the best candidate to be second in command.

It is impossible for us to fully understand God’s plans as to why certain things take place at designated times. Once Yosef was released from prison, he understood that God was orchestrating everything that was happening to him and he did not hold any grudges. Even when Yosef reveals his true identity to his brothers, he doesn’t blame them for selling him. Rather, he explains that it was all part of God’s greater plan to save lives during the famine.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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