In The Service of Potiphar

The Ishmaelite merchants sold Joseph to a caravan of Midianites, who brought him to Egypt. There they sold him to Potiphar, who was the chief officer of King Pharaoh’s guard. Joseph’s extraordinary beauty, wisdom, and fine manners attracted the attention of his master. Potiphar recognized the unusual abilities of Joseph and knew that he was no common slave. He elevated him above all other servants, and soon put him in charge of the entire household. Potiphar’s house blossomed under Joseph’s able care and loyal management, for G‑d was with Joseph and blessed with success everything he did.

Joseph Falsely Accused

In his position as supervisor of the house, Joseph could not help coming in contact with the mistress of the house and her friends. They were greatly attracted by his unusual beauty and charm.

One day, on the Feast of the Rising Nile, Joseph remained alone in the house, while the entire household turned out to attend services at the Egyptian temples. Zelicha, Potiphar’s wife, also had stayed home, for she knew that Joseph would be home, since he never attended Egyptian worship. She hoped that she would have a whole day to spend in Joseph’s company. But she did not know Joseph. All her promises could not tempt him to stay with her. Joseph saw his aged father before his eyes, and he could not betray the faith his father had in him. Potiphar’s wife was so wicked a woman that Joseph, indignant at her conduct, escaped at last from the house of his master, leaving his cloak behind him in his hasty flight.

Potiphar, returning to his house, was met by his infuriated wife who, holding the garment in her hand, greeted him with a tale against his favorite servant, accusing him of making improper advances to her.

Joseph Thrown Into Prison

Although Potiphar knew that Joseph was above suspicion and could never be guilty of such a crime, he had to uphold the honor of his wife. He had Joseph tortured and thrown into prison. There, too, however, G‑d was with Joseph, and after a short while he gained the confidence of the keeper of the prison and was put in charge of the other prisoners.

Joseph, the Interpreter of Dreams

Soon thereafter, the Chief Butler and Chief Baker of King Pharaoh displeased their king by negligence in their services. Pharaoh had them thrown into the prison where Joseph was held captive. In his capacity as the prisoner-in-charge, Joseph became good friends with the two courtiers, and they spent many hours together in conversation.

One morning Joseph entered their dungeon and found them gloomy and miserable. Inquiring as to the cause of their grief, he was told that they had dreamed during the night and that there was nobody who could interpret their dreams. Joseph told them that since the meaning of dreams was in G‑d’s hands, they might relate their dreams to him, and, with G‑d’s help, perhaps he might be able to interpret them.

The Chief Butler then related his dream: “In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; and in the vine were three branches; and as it was budding, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes; and Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into his hand.”

Joseph gave him the following interpretation (Genesis 40:12): “This is its meaning: the three branches are three days. In another three days, Pharaoh will number you [with the other officers], and he will restore you to your position, and you will place Pharaoh's cup into his hand, according to [your] previous custom, when you were his cupbearer.” Thinking of himself and his future, Joseph added a personal request that the Chief Butler, when back in the palace, should kindly remember him to the king, so that he too might be released from his undeserved imprisonment.

The Chief of the Bakers saw that Joseph had well interpreted the Chief Butler’s dream, and he ventured to tell his dream too. He said: “I also saw in my dream, and behold, three baskets of wheat bread were on my head; and in the uppermost basket there was all manner of baked foods for Pharaoh; and the birds ate them out of the basket on my head.”

Joseph interpreted this dream to mean that in three days Pharaoh would have the Chief Baker hanged on the gallows and that the birds would pick off his flesh.

Joseph’s interpretations proved right. Three days later was King Pharaoh’s birthday. He reviewed the cases of the Chief Butler and Chief Baker. The former was restored to his position, but the Chief Baker was hung. Happy, but ungrateful to Joseph, the Chief Butler forgot Joseph in the dungeon.