Parashas Mikeitz

This week’s parashah begins with the episode of Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh called in his wise men to interpret the dreams, but they were unable to do so satisfactorily. Yosef then was brought in, and he interpreted the dreams correctly. In Bereishis Rabbah 89:6, the Midrash relates that the wise men intepreted the dreams in a grossly erroneous way: “The seven goodly cows portend that you will beget seven daughers, while the seven sickly cows portend that you will bury seven daughters. The seven goodly stalks portend that you will conquer seven kingdoms, while the seven withered stalks portend that seven prefects will rebel against you.” Pharaoh sensed that their interpretation was wrong, and he therefore sought another one, which Yosef provided.
This Midrash prompts a glaring question: Why did the wise men offer such a far-flung interpretation, rather than the obvious interpretation of plenty and famine, which was the correct one? The Maggid explains that the wise men were accustomed to this method of interpretation, because it is the typical way that dreams are intepreted. Dreams are like prophecies, which usually reflect what will happen in the distant future. Now, various outcomes are possible, depending on circumstances. A dream, therefore, is usually only a vague hint, open to multiple meanings. Interpreters thus take an abstract approach. The situation with Pharaoh’s dreams, however, was an exception. The two dreams were of a similar nature, and appeared one right after the other. Pharaoh’s wise men, who were not really so sharp, missed this pattern. But Yosef, with his Divinely-inspired wisdom, noticed it and realized, as he told Pharaoh, that the dreams would come to fruition very soon. Hence, the dreams were not vague hints, but literal portrayals of what would come to be, and Yosef intepreted them accordingly.
Yosef then advised Pharaoh to appoint a wise and understanding man to take charge of the preparations for the approaching events. Many commentators ask: What led Yosef to offer unsolicited advice? We can ask further: Why did Pharaoh’s wise men view Yosef’s advice with favor? And why was their approval to Yosef’s credit? The Maggid explains with a parable. A certain king’s son fell gravely ill. The king called in his medical experts, who tried various sophisticated remedies, but failed to cure the boy. The king then issued a general call for aid throughout his entire kingdom. Now, there was a doctor in the royal capital who, although virtually unknown, was very sharp. He came to the palace to offer his services. He examined the boy, and saw that he could cure him with some common herbs. At the same time, he realized that if he proposed such a regimen he would be ridiculed, after the experts had failed with more sophisticated remedies. So he said to the king: “Your Majesty, your son can be cured with some simple herbs, but you will need someone with great skill to prepare them properly.” The king’s experts were pleased with this advice, for each of them figured that he would be the one chosen to prepare the herbs. Similarly, Pharaoh’s wise men offered a sophisticated interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, while Yosef offered a simple one, but he then shrewdly proposed a plan that would lead the wise men to view his approach with favor.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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