By Rav Yossef Carmel
Within the Talmud’s discussion (Rosh Hashana 8a) about the significance of Rosh Hashana, our sages seem to imply that we know of its status as the Day of Judgment based on a pasuk in Tehillim. There (81:5) it says, “Sound the shofar at the moon’s renewal, at the appointed time for our festive day. Because it is a law for Israel, a judgment [day] for the G-d of Ya’akov.”
It seems strange that such a fundamental concept is based on a pasuk from Tehillim, not from the Torah itself. However, further study shows how the whole perek in Tehillim reveals the Torah source for this identification of the Divine Day of Judgment. The p’sukim continue to discuss the travails of Yosef as he was freed from prison to become a leader of Egypt. The juxtaposition of Rosh Hashana’s status as a day of judgment and Yosef’s freedom from prison indicated to Chazal that Yosef left prison on Rosh Hashana (ibid.11a).
We know that Yosef suffered terribly in prison (Tehillim 105:18 & Rashi). The midrash (Tanchuma, Mikeitz 1) tells us that Yosef had to suffer in jail for two extra years, because he trusted in the sar hamashkim (butler), not in G-d, and twice told the butler to keep him in mind, “think of me with yourself”…and “remind Paroh of me” (Genesis 40:14). It is difficult to understand why it was a lack of faith in Hashem for Yosef to ask the butler to help him. After all, their friendship seems Divinely ordained for this reason, as Hashem gave Yosef the wisdom to decipher the butler’s dream. Furthermore, what is the meaning of “v’hizkirtani,” remind Paroh of me? Did Paroh know Yosef from before?
After further analysis of the word “v’hizkirtani,” perhaps we will be able to see that Yosef was more than simply telling the butler to remember him. In Shmuel (II, 8:16) it mentions the position of Yehoshafat Ben Achilud, the “mazkir.” The Rishonim try to understand the meaning of this position. Rashi explains that he would keep track of the order in which cases came to be judged. Radak explains that he was in charge of the chronicles. According to both, it seems strange that such a junior position would be mentioned among the list of important officers in the government of David and Shlomo Hamelech.
The Ramban (Drashot on Rosh Hashana) explains that the root “zachor” has two meanings. In the grammatical case, kal, it means, “to remember.” But in hifil it refers to judicial matters (see the Ramban for examples). Therefore, Yom Hazikaron (Vayikra 23:24) identifies Rosh Hashana as a day of judgment.
Let us return to Yosef, with the Ramban’s insight in hand. Yosef is not simply asking the butler to mention him to Paroh, rather, he is asking to appeal his case in his idolatrous courthouse. This is particularly improper as it took place on Rosh Hashana, when the Divine Judge is sitting in judgment. Now we also understand the importance of Yehoshafat’s position. He was the head of the legal system and set its agenda, which is certainly worthy of mention. His name (literally, Hashem shall judge) is also appropriate for his responsibilities.
Let us pray that on this Day of Judgment, Hashem, the master of all judges, will grant us a year of life and goodness.
Originally appears in the “Chemdat Yamim” Parsha Sheet