In this week’s parshat—Parshat Veyeishev—we learn the important middah: “Remember those who have helped you.” So often in our lives, it is easy to think that we have achieved our accomplishments all on our own, forgetting those who have helped us along the way.
This is what happened to Pharaoh’s cup-bearer—one of Yosef’s cell mates in Pharaoh’s dungeon. Yosef saved the cup-bearer from despair by interpreting his dream, foretelling his release from prison and his return to an honoured position. Yosef asked the cup-bearer to remember him languishing in prison. But once released, the cup-bearer forgot all about Yosef.
Often, we question Yosef’s character and think of him as arrogant. After all, he told his brothers about his dream of eleven stars bowing down to the sun, which they misread as a message about their subservience.
Yet, a closer reading suggests that Yosef was a gifted person. Perhaps he was a bit naive, but he always remembered those who helped him. For example, when Yosef was finally released from prison and brought to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he credited his ability to interpret dreams to God rather than taking the credit for himself.
Those familiar with this story will know that Yosef was in Egypt because his jealous brothers sold him into slavery there. For years, his brothers lived apart while he rose to become Egypt’s second in command.
After many years, a famine struck Eretz Canaan, causing Yosef’s brothers to come to Egypt in search of food. Unbeknownst to them, they came before Yosef to plead for nourishment. Angry and unable to forgive his brothers, Yosef concealed himself. When at last Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he said: “Do not be angry with yourselves, for it is God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” This shows that Yosef was able to forgive his brothers by remembering that he had received God’s help, enabling him to survive and thrive in Egypt.
It is not always easy to remember those who have helped us—sadness, resentment, and anger can obscure our memory. Yet, by remembering and acknowledging those who have helped us, we can transform our perspective.
This week, when we asked our students to reflect on the people in their lives who help them, they remembered: “our parents, our teachers, our friends, our nannies.” This Shabbat, may we follow both their lead and Yosef’s lead in remembering those who help us.