When Pharaoh had two strange dreams he summoned all his wise men and no one was able to interpret the meaning of the dreams. Then his Cupbearer spoke up and reminded Pharaoh that he had been imprisoned with the Baker and one night they both had dreams. Then, he states: וְשָׁם אִתָּנוּ נַעַר, עֶבֶד, עִבְרִי “And there with us was a youth, a Hebrew, a slave…”. (Gen. 41,12) He explains how Yosef was able to accurately interpret both their dreams.
Although the Cupbearer was recommending someone who can possibly interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he doesn’t hesitate to throw in a few sharp discriminating words, declaring that he was a Hebrew and a slave. He was willing to use Yosef’s services, but at the same time he had to scorn and belittle him.
How much like the world today. Israel offers the world so many new inventions and technologies. It creates numerous health improving discoveries. Its innovations and revolutionary advances have helped save many lives throughout the world. Yet the world keeps criticizing and condemning Israel for everything it does. Nothing has changed since the days of Pharaoh.
Usually the Sidra of MiKetz is read during the holiday of Chanukah. There seems to be a similarity between the story mentioned in this Portion and the story of Chanukah.
In the Sidra we read of a strange happening. In the dreams of Pharaoh he saw thin and gaunt cows devouring fat and healthy cows and seven ears of thin and scorched ears of grain swallowing healthy and full ears of grain.
In the prayer of על הנסים which we recite during Chanukah in every Amida and every Grace After Meals we state: מסרת גבורים ביד חלשים, “You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak”. This is a similar theme as in the Sidra. It isn’t the strong and the mighty that are more powerful. Often the weak and the humble can be mightier.
This is an important observation of which we should take heed. At organizational meetings it is customary to see that those who have more money and more influence usually have their suggestions taken while the less influential are barely given any attention. The story of Chanukah and the Sidra of MiKetz should encourage everyone to voice their opinion and not to fear to stand up against the more influential people.
This is true in organizational life, in business and in our day to day relationships with our friends and acquaintances. We should always have the courage and fortitude to stand up for what we believe.
Yosef was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He did so, as he says, with the help of Hashem. Then he advises Pharaoh how he should proceed having been informed of what lies ahead. Everyone asks the question, if he was called to merely interpret the dreams where did he get the temerity to also give uncalled for advice.
A Rabbi once gave a convoluted answer to this question by telling a story. Two ministers, who were constantly seeking honors, came to the train station on the same day and found a band playing great music. Each of these ministers claimed the band was playing in his honor. There was a poor man standing there shaking from hunger.
The ministers decided to approach him and ask him for whom the band was playing. He asked them for a hefty sum to answer the question and the ministers obliged. He then told them, “The band was not playing for either one of you but for me so that I should be able to earn some money to feed me and my family.”
Similarly, Yosef thought, Pharaoh’s dreams were neither for Pharaoh nor for his Egyptian interpreters who could not solve the puzzle of the dreams. Hashem could have brought the famine without advising Pharaoh of what will happen. He realized that the dreams were for his own benefit to get him out of prison, so he offered his advice which he knew would result in placing him in charge.
It is often difficult to understand why certain things happen. We must, however, believe that there is a good reason even if we can not see it.
Pharaoh had two dreams and it was only Yosef who was able to interpret them for him. Yosef was taken out of the dungeon where he had been for years and brought before Pharaoh. The Midrash Tanchuma (MiKetz 3) directs our attention to a number of changes that Pharaoh made in relating the dreams to Yosef. According to the Midrash, Pharaoh was testing Yosef to see if he truly had divine inspiration and would know about these changes.
The Midrash lists a number of differences between the actual dreams and the way they were told. One difference the Midrash does not mention, and, in fact, it was the first difference that we can see. In the dream, the Torah says, “…behold he was standing over the river…”, AL HAYE’OR. (Gen. 41,1) When relating the dreams Pharaoh says, “…behold I was standing upon the bank of the river”, AL SEFAT HAYE’OR. (41,17)
There is a verse in Tehillim which is recited every Thursday morning in the SHIR SHEL YOM, the psalm of the day. In part it reads: SEFAT LO YADATI ESHMA, “I heard the speech of one that I knew not.” This is a difficult verse to explain but in usual translations it refers to the Jewish people when they left Egypt they heard the voice of Hashem and did not really comprehend what He was saying.
A literal explanation, however, could be that Yosef, who is mentioned in this verse, claims that he did not hear from Pharaoh the word SEFAT when he was told about the dream. Pharaoh had changed the word SEFAT to AL. This Yosef pointed out was not the correct description of the dream, another indication that he really had divine inspiration.
We see in the Torah the contrast between one Pharaoh in his generation and another Pharaoh in a different generation. When Yosef tells Pharaoh that Hashem was warning him about the approaching famine, this Pharaoh believed in the words of Hashem. He took them to heart and began acting on what he had heard from Yosef in the name of Hashem.
Centuries later, the Pharaoh of that time was also approached in the name of Hashem. Moshe came to him and said that he had been sent by Hashem to tell him that he should free the Jewish people from bondage and permit them to leave. This Pharaoh did not believe in the message and refused to obey. Why the difference in the reaction of these two Pharaohs?
Yosef’s message predicted that in spite of the imminent famine, Pharaoh had a way of preparing for it and could, indeed, become wealthy by taking the proper steps. Pharaoh liked this message from Hashem and believed.
Moshe, on the other hand, asked in the name of Hashem that the Jews should be freed. This was not advantageous for Pharaoh and, in fact, it was to his disadvantage to accept the message that Moshe delivered from Hashem. This was too costly for him. Hence, he turned it down.
Compare these actions to that of Jews who believe in Hashem in tragic times as well as in good times. How many Jews throughout history refused to abandon their faith in Hashem even when they were being tortured and killed for adhering to their faith?
Pharaoh summoned Yosef from his prison to interpret his dream which neither he nor his wise men were able to explain. After Yosef deciphered the meaning of the strange dream he suggested to Pharaoh that he appoint a wise person to take over the responsibility of the land to provide during the good years for the famine years that follow.
This was a strange and courageous thing for Yosef to do. He had merely been called to interpret the dream and not to advise the king what he should do. What eventually convinced the king to appoint Yosef to this task?
Someone explained this with an interesting tale. In Russia many years ago there were two government officials who were always arguing for supremacy. Each thought that his position was higher. Once they were both coming to the train station and a band was playing patriotic music. Each of the men claimed that it was in his honor that the band had been sent to play. They argued with each other until someone suggested that they ask a poor bystander what he thought. They agreed and approached a disheveled beggar standing nearby to tell them what he thought.
The beggar agreed if they would give him fifty rubbles. They did and then he pointed first to one and then to the other and said, “The band is not playing for you nor for you. It is playing for me so that I can get fifty rubbles and survive”.
That is what Yosef was implying to Pharaoh. Hashem could bring the famine without dreams and without revealing His intentions to anyone. The purpose of the dream and its revelation was so that Yosef could be freed from imprisonment and put in charge. Pharaoh saw his wisdom and appointed him.
When Yosef interprets the dream for Pharaoh he adds a word of advice: VE’ATA YEREH FAR’OH ISH NAVON VECHACHAM, “And now let Pharaoh find a man discerning and wise and set him over the land of Egypt.”(Gen. 41,33) Yosef was brought before Pharaoh to interpret a dream. Not to give advice. What made him so bold to go a step further and suggest action that should be taken?
In truth, the proposed operational procedures were really a part of the interpretation of the dream itself. If Hashem wanted to notify Pharaoh that there will be seven years of plenty He did not have to mention the seven years of famine now. That could have waited for a dream seven years later. The fact that the information was revealed now, indicates that it was done in order to prepare and take immediate steps to combat the famine when it will arrive.
Accordingly, Yosef explained that to Pharaoh, and advised him to find an appropriate individual who could take the necessary precautions and prepare for the seven bad years.
Information and knowledge in itself is meaningless unless you know what to do with it. This is something the world is lacking now with all its scientific advancements. It lacks the ability to use it constructively.