What makes a crime a capitol offense? How bad must an act be to rise to the level that merits the death penalty? In reality, the action itself matters. But so does the identity of the perpetrator.
As Yosef languishes in prison, we learn about the tragic fortunes of the royal baker and vintner. They find themselves thrown into prison awaiting trial for seemingly heinous, terrible crimes. What did they do? What crimes did they commit? The Torah only tells us that חטאו – “they sinned,” לאדניהם מלך מצרים – “to their master, the king of
Siftei Chachamim – a commentary on Rashi explains that from their punishments we can discover their crimes. The fly in the wine wasn’t necessarily the fault of the vintner, so the Pharoh restores him to his position. But the stone in the bread is only due to the baker’s negligence, so he gets the death penalty.
That’s it? A fly in the wine and a rock in the bread – and they’re thrown in jail? Doesn’t that seem somewhat extreme? Not really – because these men work not in a local bar or bakery, but in the royal palace. They serve the king. They enjoy the status of “Royal Baker” and “Royal Vintner,” and with that status come responsibility and obligation. The greater the honor and distinction, the higher the stakes grow, and the greater the consequences for even seemingly small slip-ups.
Imagine if they worked not for the king of