In prison he did the royal cup-bearer a good turn and asked the latter to keep him in mind and mention him to Pharaoh (Gen. 40:15).
A reasonable request? The Midrash (B’reshit Rabba 89:3) does not think so.
Its view is that because of the two things Joseph asked (“remember me” and “mention me to Pharaoh”), two further years were added by God to the time Joseph spent in prison. This explains why the sidra commences, “And it happened at the end of two full years…” (Gen. 41:1).
But why should Joseph be punished in this way?
The Midrash quotes the Psalmist, “Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust and does not turn to the arrogant” (Psalm 40:5).
The Natziv (Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin) of Volozhin (1734-1802), author of the commentary Ha’amek Davar, says this shows that one should not rely on human beings alone when one needs help, nor rely solely on miracles from God.
Someone who seeks a way out of a difficult spot should not fail to pray for Divine support, and often God will answer by sending an earthly agent to work on His behalf. But if one tries to manage without God entirely, human beings may prove to be a broken reed.
The point is beautifully illustrated in a story told of David Ben Gurion and Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog.
In the tense days of the Israeli War of Independence, it is said that Ben Gurion came to the rabbi and asked, “Why does God not send us some miracles to get us out of this crisis?” Rav Herzog is reported to have answered, “Prime Minister, He has. You are one of God’s miracles!”