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No Atheist in a Foxhole


When reading the story of Yosef in chapter 37, we come across a somewhat strange phenomenon. Throughout all of the verses which describe Yosef’s being kidnapped, thrown mercilessly into the pit and abandoned in it, not once does he turn to God for help. This is not the typical behavior of the Avot, who all prayed in time of stress. Avraham prayes for the health of a foreign king, Yitzchak prays on behalf of his wife, and Ya’akov prays for the safety of his family before greeting Esav. We would expect from Yosef no less – we are talking here about his life being in actual danger!


What is even more surprising is that later on in the story, Yosef mentions God’s name numerous times. As a matter of fact, Yosef becomes the paradigm of one who mentions Hashem (see Rashi on Bereshit 39:3: “Shem shamayim shagur be-fiv”- the name of Hashem is constantly in his mouth). When, where, and how did this transformation in Yosef’s personality occur?


If we take a close look at the entire first section of the story of Yosef – chapter 37, we observe that God’s name is not mentioned even once. In the life of Yosef in chapter 37, Yosef sees himself as the center of the world, both due to his father’s attitude towards him and due to his dreams. When one is so focused on himself, there is no room for God in his world. There is room only for himself. Therefore, Yosef must go down into the pit both figuratively and literally. From being at the top of the world, with the sun, moon, and the stars, he must go deep down into the pit, for perhaps this experience will humble him and help him find God.


Unfortunately, Yosef still does not cry out to Hashem for help, so he must descend further: “Yosef was taken down to Egypt” (Bereshit 39:1). Perhaps by going down and experiencing loneliness, he will find Hashem. And indeed, it is in the pits of despair where he seeks and finds Hashem: “Mima’amakim keraticha Hashem” (Psalms 130:1). It is down in the darkness of Egypt, in the loneliness of the house of Potiphar, where Yosef will seek and find Hashem. And indeed, when he reaches “pit bottom,” we find repeated mention of God’s name, to the extent that no other biblical character mentions G-d as much as Yosef does.


May we all find room for Hashem in our lives alongside our sense of our own talents and accomplishments, realizing that the gentle pressure of Hashem’s guiding hand is what leads us to success.




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