ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים
And it came to pass after two full years
These two years were counted from the day, Pharaoh’s birthday, that the chief butler left prison. From that moment, two years were added to Joseph’s captivity for having placed his trust in the chief butler, believing that the butler would mention him favorably to the king. Pharaoh’s birthday was a day designated for recognition of his servants, either for pardon (as with the chief butler) or punishment (as with the chief baker). Joseph therefore said to the butler “כי אם זכרתני” (but think of me) “והזכרתי אל פרעה” (and make mention of me to Pharaoh), meaning that if the chief butler would remember him during the following year, he could do so before Pharaoh’s next birthday.
However, “ולא זכר שר המשקים את יוסף” (the chief butler did not remember Joseph). Why? Because “וישכחהו” (he forgot him) within the following year before Pharaoh’s next birthday. Joseph had hoped fervently that, by the Pharaoh’s next birthday, the chief butler would speak well of him to the king. But, having placed his trust in a mortal, Joseph was forgotten like a dead person by the chief butler who did not mention him. Joseph therefore stayed an additional year in jail, so that, only after his hope that the chief butler would help him, was completely disappointed, did the Almighty arrange for him to be mentioned on Pharaoh’s birthday, after another year had passed. But the chief butler mentioned Joseph not for Joseph’s sake, but for the king’s, whose spirit had been disturbed by his dream. The extension of Joseph’s captivity was, therefore, a lesson for Joseph to place his trust only in God, and not to seek elsewhere for deliverance, which is why the Scripture writes “שנתים ימים” (two years of days).
But it seems astonishing that God would consider it sinful for Joseph to try to free himself from captivity. Is that not called wisdom, and does God not promise “וברכתיך בכל אשר תעשה” (and I will bless you in all that you shall do)? And even if, nevertheless, salvation belongs to God, we human beings are required to do whatever we can for ourselves. However, Joseph the righteous was different, being schooled in miracles and entirely under Divine Providence beyond the bounds of nature, as when he was thrown into the pit, and when in the house of his Egyptian master, God was with him in all that he did. Thus, while Joseph was imprisoned, whichever way he turned, God made him successful. One such as he should have cast his burden only to God. Only for one like Joseph, therefore was reliance on human agency sinful.
This is also the meaning of the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 89:3) on “ויהי מקץ שנתים ימים” which identifies the verse (Psalms 40:5) “אשרי הגבר אשר שם ה’ מבטחו ולא פנה אל רהבים השטי כזב” (blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust who does not turn to the arrogant or those who follow falsehood) with Joseph. But because he did turn to the proud, when he said “כי אם זכרתני” (keep me in mind) and “והזכרתני” (make mention of me), two years were added to his captivity. This is astonishing. But the intent of the Midrash is that every person must trust in God, but may also seek aid wherever it is found, provided he attributes the aid to Divine Providence. But blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust without any intermediary. Joseph was one like this, and therefore should not have turned for aid to the proud. (שביבי אש)
וטבוח טבח והכן
and slaughter an animal and make ready
This is the same as “לטבוח טבח ולהכן” (and to slaughter and to prepare). The word “טבוח” is not an imperative, for the imperative would be “וטבח.”
In their commentaries on the discussion in the Gemara (Hulin 91a) the Tosaphot (ד”ה כמאן דאמר גיד הנשה) and the Maharshah point out that although “וטבוח” is not an imperative, “והכן” is an imperative. And our master suggests that since the brothers fulfilled the commandment of shehitah as it was given at Sinai, they would not eat meat from an animal slaughtered by a Noahide, such an animal being considered neveilah. Joseph therefore did not tell his Gentile servant to “slaughter” (וטבח), he told him “וטבוח,” by which he meant that the Gentile should prepare the animal’s throat so that one of the brothers could perform the shehitah on the animal. But Joseph did command the servant to prepare animal to be eaten after shehitah, using the imperative form “והכן,” which meant that the servant himself should remove the sciatic nerve (גיד הנשה).
This is an appropriate place to mention that our master was astounded that, in his commentary on the Mishnah (Hulin 7:6), the Rambam explains that the reply of the Sages to R. Judah (who holds that the brothers observed the commandment not to eat the sciatic nerve) that the commandment against eating the sciatic nerve was given at Sinai, not during Jacob’s lifetime , but the commandment is recorded in the Scripture in its proper place (i.e., in the narrative concerning Jacob at Genesis 32:33). [In other words, the opinion of the Sages is that we observe this commandment only because we were commanded at Sinai to do so, not because of the earlier commandment to do so.] But if so, according to the Rambam, the Sages who dispute the opinion of R. Judah agree that the children of Jacob had been prohibited to eat the sciatic nerve, but that commandment was binding subsequently only because it was repeated at Sinai. But then why did the Gemara write “והכן טול גיד הנשה בפניהם כמ”ד גיד הנשה נאסר לבני נח” (“And prepare” teaches that Joseph instructed the steward to remove the sciatic nerve in their presence so that the brothers would know that it had been fully removed. The Gemara comments that this opinion is according to the opinion that the sciatic nerve was forbidden to the children of Jacob even before the Torah was given, when they still had the status of descendants of Noah.)? The statement of the Gemara implies that there was a dispute about whether the sciatic nerve was forbidden to the children of Jacob, but the Rambam denies that there was a difference of opinion. And this requires great reflection. (שביבי אש)