Rabbi Daniel Schaefer
Shana tovah. Two rabbis walk into a bar. One rabbi says:
The world was created in the fall in the month of Tishrei. In Tishrei the Patriarchs were born; in Tishrei the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on Rosh HaShana Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered by God; on Rosh HaShana Joseph came out from prison; on Rosh HaShana our ancestors’s slavery in Egypt ceased; in Nisan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Tishrei in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed by the Messiah.
So the other rabbi, believing his friend to be dearly mistaken, says:
Actually…The world was created in the spring in the month of Nisan; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; in Nisan the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on Rosh HaShana Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah were remembered by God on Rosh HaShana Joseph came out from prison; on Rosh HaShana our ancestors’s slavery in Egypt ceased; in Nisan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Nisan in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed by the Messiah
Okay – So I made up the the part about the bar…
But the rest of it is word for word from tractate Rosh Hashanah in the Babylonian Talmud. The two rabbis – Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua – are debating when the world began and thus when the new year begins, in the early fall, in the month of Tishrei, which begins tonight, or in the Spring, during the month of Nisan, when Passover falls. (Long story short, it’s tonight).
They each bring the same list of events to prove their ultimate point about when the world began and when redemption will occur. On this list of major events in the history of the Jewish people – the creation of the world, the birth of the Patriachs, and the redemption from slavery – one, in particular caught my eye, because it’s an event we don’t often associate with Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua both agree that Joseph was freed from prison on Rosh Hashanah.
Joseph, he of the amazing technicolor dreamcoat, was Jacob’s favorite child, but despised by his brothers, who pushed him into a pit and sold him into slavery. Joseph began with a good life, full of privilege, but quickly descended, first into pit and then all the way into slavery in Egypt.
Until he rose again – to quickly become the right hand man to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s ministers – who put Joseph in charge of his entire household. That is until Joseph was falsely accused of sexual impropriety by Potiphar’s wife. Just as quickly as Joseph ascended, he went down again, this time to Pharaoh’s prison.
But even in prison, Joseph managed to rise again, becoming in charge of all the other prisoners. After Joseph had been in jail for some time, Pharaoh got upset with his chief baker and cupbearer and sent them to prison. It would be another full year before they each dreamed a dream on the same night and Joseph had the opportunity to interpret them. He told the baker that he would die in 3 days and the cupbearer that in 3 days, he would be restored to his old post.
He told the cupbearer: “Remember me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place.”
In 3 days, both of Joseph’s interpretations were proven correct. The baker was killed and the cupbearer was given his old job back. But that is not the day that Joseph was freed from jail! For the cupbearer did not remember Joseph and forget him. Joseph remained in jail for two more years! Two more years! Before Pharaoh had a dream that none of his wise men could interpret. Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, but rose again, become second only to Pharaoh in all of Egypt.
So why was Joseph liberated from prison? And why on Rosh Hashanah is it important to remember his liberation? I could tell you it’s because Joseph was a dreamer, and he had the faith to see his dreams through. (Which I believe). I could say that it’s because Joseph was a God-fearing man, which is true. Or attribute it to his righteousness or his ability to be vulnerable. All of which would be valid. But the truth is that Joseph wasn’t the reason that he was freed from prison that day. It was because Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered Joseph and was willing to risk his own reputation to tell the truth.
וַיְדַבֵּר֙ שַׂ֣ר הַמַּשְׁקִ֔ים אֶת־פַּרְעֹ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אֶת־חֲטָאַ֕י אֲנִ֖י מַזְכִּ֥יר הַיּֽוֹם׃
The chief cupbearer then spoke up and said to Pharaoh, “I must make mention today of my offenses.”
The cupbearer reminds Pharaoh of his past sins in order to tell him about Joseph and rights the wrong he did to Joseph by not mentioning him sooner. It takes courage to acknowledge our missteps. It often feels like we have nothing to gain and everything to lose by speaking the truth. But this act of honesty and humility, frees Joseph, transforming him overnight from a prisoner to a prince.
We have no idea what the ripple effects will be of our actions, but every year Rosh Hashanah arrives to remind us that we are not bound by our shortcomings and mistakes. That telling the truth can free us and free others. May we find the courage to raise our voices in truth and humility to liberate others and may the new year bring us all a taste of redemption and the strength to rise again.