Sometimes it’s important to mind someone else’s business.
Yosef sat in prison for more than a decade before he was released to become viceroy of Egypt. His path toward redemption began when he interpreted the dreams of his fellow inmates: Pharaoh’s butler and baker. However, Yosef’s great achievement was not his accurate interpretations; as Yosef repeatedly emphasized, that was really the work of Hashem.
Instead, Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l pointed out that Yosef’s success can be attributed to his sensitivity in realizing that the officers had a need for dream interpretation in the first place. While making his rounds, Yosef noticed that the two chamberlains looked particularly unsettled one morning, and he made it his business to inquire about the nature of their distress (B’reishis 40:6-7). By demonstrating concern for their wellbeing, Yosef put himself in a position to relay the dreams’ interpretations, which would prove to be his “Get Out of Jail Free card.” Had he not taken the time to initiate this conversation, one can only wonder how much longer he would have been forced to languish in that prison.
Let’s take this one step further by contrasting Yosef’s thoughtful regard for others with the callous disposition of the officers themselves.
Consider the comment of Rashi (v. 5) that, in addition to their own dreams, each chamberlain had also received the correct interpretation of his companion’s dream. In other words, the baker had dreamed the solution to the butler’s dream, and the butler had been given the interpretation of the baker’s nightmare. If each had not been so self-absorbed in his own problems, he might have realized that his cellmate was tossing and turning all night, as well. Had the two of them cared enough to inquire about the other’s troubles, they would have immediately discovered that the answer they so desperately needed was lying in the very next bed. A moment of consideration could have spared them several hours of agony.
Yosef, too, had plenty of his own problems to worry about. He was ripped away from his beloved father at the hands of his own brothers, he was sold repeatedly as a slave, and he was now rotting in prison for a crime he did not commit! But instead of retreating inside his difficulties, he used his predicament as a means to empathize with others in distress, to be attentive when they were feeling down, as well. This sensitivity was not only Yosef’s ticket to freedom, but the very quality that made him deserving to serve as head of state and provide for the needs of others.
True, sometimes people would rather be left alone, preferring that others mind their own business. But by noticing when others are upset and reaching out to show that we care, we can put ourselves in a position to help whenever they are ready to share. When done in a sensitive and non-intrusive way, it can be very appreciated to mind someone else’s business!