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Two Words, Two Years

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 22/12/2019

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Two Words, Two Years

The Midrash tells us Yosef was imprisoned for two years since he said to the שר המשקים, זכרתני והזכרתני, think of me…and mention me to Paroh. However, we are left to wonder why two years and not two months or two days?[1]


We are taught אין המת משתכח..., a dead person is forgotten from the heart after 12 months.[2] As a result, we see זכירה means 12 months. For this reason, we have Parshas Zachor—to remember Amalek,[3] once yearly. Therefore, if it is a leap year, it is a 13 month year and כונה is necessary at the end of Ki Seitzei where it talks of זכירת עמלק. Since Parshas Zachor comes out Purim time and Ki Seitzei in Elul, 12 months doesn’t pass without reading the Parsha of Amalek.[4]


Now we can understand why Yosef was punished for two years since he said  זכר(והזכרתני, זכרתני) twice and each זכר is a year. This also explains why Yosef was released from prison on Rosh Hashana[5] as it is also known as יום הזכרון.

Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Breishis Rabba 89:3, Breishis 40:14. Kli Yakar, Breishis 40:23. The Brisker Rav ingeniously postulates what would be if he only said one זכר, how long would he have been punished for? We would say one year. But, the truth is he wouldn’t have been punished at all since he was doing the proper השתדלות. Now that he said it twice, it shows that even the first time he said it was also a lack of faith. 

[2] Brachos 58b. Similarly, the Halacha states (Orach Chaim 225:1) that if one sees his friend after a lapse of 12 months, he recites ברוך מחיה המתים (see Mishna Brura 225:4).

[3] It is also one of the שש זכירות.

[4] See Maharam Shik in his Sefer on the 613 Mitzvos, Mitzva 605 in the name of the Chassam Sofer.

[5] Rosh Hashana 10b, 11a.

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