Parashas Mikeitz

I had a complaint that my Chanukah Dvar Torah didn’t have any jokes in it so I am going to start this week with a joke… man walks into a bar… hurts his head…

This week’s sedra starts with the words ‘It happened at the end of two years [to the day]’ … that Pharaoh had his famous dream. What the Torah is really trying to tell us here is that exactly 2 years after the butler was freed (from last weeks sedra), Yoseph is called to interpret Pharaohs dream. So why 2 years from this event that Yoseph has to wait until he is released from his imprisonment? It is brought down that Yoseph was actually supposed to be freed at the same time as the Butler but these extra 2 years were a punishment for asking the Butler to put in a good word for him after interpreting his dream for him. This lack of faith in Hashem and reliance on a goy to try and free him led to him being punished with this extra time… so why 2 years then?! When Yoseph interprets the Butlers dream last week he informs him that he will be released in 3 days, he the proceeds to almost immediately asks the Butler to mention him to Pharaoh, giving him this whole shpiel about how he is innocent and was kidnapped etc, this appears to be almost desperate behavior by Yoseph. For these 2 days in which Yoseph couldn’t wait to be freed (because it was supposed to be 2 extra days in prison with the 3rd day him being released with the butler), he is punished with 2 extra years! We see this same form of punishment at play with the incident of the spies in Parashas Bamidbar; they are given 40 extra years in the desert for spying the land out for 40 days. This is not to say that we are supposed to wait for Hashem without acting however, there are occasions when we need to meet half way and take action but this approach from Yoseph was not appropriate behavior for a man on his level, begging a Jew hating Egyptian for his help was not only desperate but foolish as he surely knew he wouldn’t benefit from this move.

We therefore see that Pharaoh’s dreams were deliberately dreamt on that precise night in order that Yoseph be released from prison. It is therefore key to understand that Yoseph was not released because Pharaoh dreamt his dreams BUT that Pharaoh dreamt his dreams in order that Yoseph be released… a subtle difference which produces a whole different rationalization… by this interpretation we see that Hashem implemented Yoseph’s exact release date, rather than it being down to coincidence (a concept we don’t believe in). By this same logic we also see why none of Pharaoh’s necromancers (witch doctors, dream interpreters, black magicians etc.) or ‘wise men’ could interpret his dreams. The torah describes how Pharaoh wasn’t happy with their interpretations and the Midrash explains that this was due to the fact that within his dream Pharaoh had actually dreamt the interpretation of it… he was just unable to remember it when he woke up but would recall it if someone correctly interpreted it. This gives more valid grounds for him not being ‘happy’, based on the fact that he knew their interpretations weren’t right rather than that he wasn’t actually happy with them. Hashem effectively made Pharaoh forget the important part of the dream (their meaning of it) with the path set that Yoseph would be the one to interpret them. Another obvious question to ask is… why couldn’t these professional dream interpreters, magicians and wise people interpret them?? Different commentators suggest different interpretations that were given by them… some of them suggested that these 7 fat cows and then 7 skinny cows and the 7 healthy ears of wheat and then 7 skinny ones were children which were to be born and die, others came up with suggestion that these were wars they would win and lose… but shouldn’t the interpretation have been more obvious… let us think… COWS, WHEAT… ring any bells?? It wouldn’t take an Einstein to suggest that these were food related and therefore maybe the interpretation was food related! We therefore we see that Hashem essentially blinded the interpreters to this obvious detail which would lead to Yoseph having to be released to do his thing!

Last week’s sedra ended with the information that ‘The butler did not remember Yoseph, he forgot him’, why does he seem to remember him all of a sudden when he is needed this week? There is an interpretation in the Midrash that, seeing Pharaoh’s anguished state, the butler realized that he was putting himself in great danger by withholding his knowledge of someone who could interpret Pharaoh’s dream correctly. In addition, Pharaoh seemed to be so upset that he might die and the butler feared that if a new king took the throne, he might make wholesale changes in his retinue, thus possibly costing the butler his position. Under these circumstances, the butler decided that his own self interest dictated that he ‘remember’ Yoseph and tell Pharaoh about him. So why did he forget him in the first place?... the same reason why Jews have always been forgotten when they are in need of help but then magically remembered if they are needed… anti-semitism. This is shown when the butler finally mentions Yoseph to Pharaoh, he describes him as ‘a Hebrew youth, a slave’. These derogatory terms also confirm are earlier point that Yoseph shouldn’t have been so naive as to put his trust into the butler for help. Interestingly what comes first in the description?... ‘a Hebrew’… before anything the butler wants to warn Pharaoh that he is dealing with a Jew. Rashi assumes that the butler chose these words carefully in order to stigmatize Yoseph because it is axiomatic (hello thesaurus!) that evil people act in line with their base character. By mentioning that he was a slave, the Butler also attempted to diminish any chance that Yoseph would reach a high position because as Rashi notes; it was written in the laws of Egypt that a slave may never be ruler nor wear the robes of a noble. Yoseph proceeded however to offer an impressive interpretation of the dream, he went so far as to tell Pharaoh that the dream itself indicated the course of action that should be taken to save the country from a disastrous famine, with the result that an extraordinary thing happened… a Hebrew, a youth, a slave – everything derogatory the butler said about Yoseph – became the ruler of the land. When G-d wills something, nature and politics alike yield to make the impossible, possible!

When Yoseph is summoned to interpret Pharaohs dream he is given a huge opportunity to blow his own trumpet and try and find favour in Pharaohs eyes, after so many years of being a slave and a prisoner. Pharaoh’s first words to Yoseph were… ‘I heard it is said of you that you comprehend a dream to interpret it’… My own personal instinct at this point would be to respond with ‘Yes I am amazing, you need me, I will use my special skills of interpretation if you get me a Ferrari, box tickets to Spurs etc.’… Yoseph was a slightly holier than me however and he instantly flattened such claims and confirmed his full faith in Hashem by stating… ‘That is beyond me; it is G-d who will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare’, this shows that even though Yoseph was aware of his ability to interpret dreams he was also fully conscious of the fact that Hashem granted him this talent.

On the most basic level Pharaohs dreams indicated two periods of harvest in Egypt, the first being plentiful (as shown by the beautiful, fat cows and healthy, full ears of wheat) and the second being a famine (symbolized by our skinny, ugly cows and thin, scorched ears of wheat). The reason for the Torah giving two descriptions for these was to show that the years of good harvest would be not only plentiful but would also yield quality produce (hence the beauty of the cows and the healthy ears of wheat) and vice-versa the years of famine would have little yield of poor quality. Yoseph found the solution to Egypt’s oncoming problem in the dreams by learning out that the eating of the fat cows by the skinny ones and the absorption of the healthy ears by the skinny ones was symbolic of the fact that the 7 years of plenty would literally feed or absorb the food shortages which would be encountered during the 7 famine years (through storing up supplies during the good years).

Through these incredible set of events Yoseph is appointed viceroy of the land and his successful interpretations and advice on how to deal with the oncoming disaster led to Egypt not only surviving but prospering through the famine years. We must learn from this that no matter how bad things get in life you always have to remember that there is an ultimate good to it. Yoseph was nearly killed by his brothers, sold as a slave, sent to prison and suffered immensely but the ultimate path was always laid out by Hashem for him to become ruler in Egypt. We might not be able to understand painful situation we experience but we have to remember that it is just a journey and ultimately Hashem is looking after us. When Yoseph eventually looked back on what he went through he must have realized it was all necessary to reach where he was and so to we will look back one day and realize how necessary some of the unpleasant experiences we went through were, in order for us to reach where we are today. (Please don’t try passing this advice on to Tiger Woods at the moment though).

With that I wish you all a fantastic Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and last few days of Chanukah.

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshiva, Jerusalem)

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