Parashas Mikeitz

This week’s parashah opens with Pharaoh’s dream and his summoning Yosef from jail to interpret it. The Torah relates (Bereishis 41:1): “And it was after two years of days: Pharaoh was dreaming that – behold – he was standing over the river.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 89:3):
“For a dream comes with many issues” (Koheles 5:2). Said Pharaoh: “Who is maintaining himself upon whom? I upon my god, or my god upon me?” He said to him: “You upon your god.” [The Midrash does not specify the speaker here. Some commentators explain that this answer was conveyed to Pharaoh in his dream. The Maggid understands that Yosef was the speaker.] Thus it is written: “And it was after two years of days: Pharaoh was dreaming that – behold – he was standing over the river.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash through a parable. In a certain town there was a wealthy merchant with a wide-ranging business; all the stores in the nearby towns got their merchandise from him. His practice was to stay in the Beis Midrash after Shacharis and learn Torah until about midday and then turn to his business. Once a stranger from another town came to his house in the morning and asked for him. His wife told the visitor that her husband had not yet returned from the Beis Midrash, and so the visitor turned around and left. When the merchant came home, his wife told him what happened. He scolded her, saying: “Why did you let him go? You should have called me from the Beis Midrash.”
A few days later, another stranger came to the merchant’s house in the morning and asked for him. His wife told him: “Please have a seat, my friend. I will go to the Beis Midrash and fetch him.” The merchant came home, greeted the visitor, and asked what he wanted. The visitor replied that he was a pauper seeking alms. Having no choice under the circumstances, the merchant gave the visitor a donation. The visitor then left. Afterward, the merchant berated his wife: “You caused me a loss by fetching me!” The wife responded: “Didn’t you tell me to fetch you from the Beis Midrash when visitors come?” The merchant replied: “You should have first asked him what he wanted. If it was something to our benefit, you could have fetched me, and if not, you could have simply told him that I was not home.”
The parallel is as follows. Pharaoh was perplexed by his dream – he did not know whether he was being sent good news or bad. Our Sages tell us (Berachos 55b): “A dream that has not been interpreted is like a letter that has not been read.” And they tell us further (ibid.): “All dreams follow the mouth” – so long as a dream has not been interpreted, it is like a sealed letter, bringing neither good or bad, but once the dream is interpreted, the dreamer’s fate is determined by the interpretation. Now, Pharaoh was very eager to learn the meaning of his dream. On the other hand, he was afraid to relate the dream and ask for an interpretation; he knew that an unfavorable interpretation would seal a bad fate for him, whereas if he refrained from seeking an interpretation, the dream would bring him no harm. Accordingly, when Yosef came before him, Pharaoh sought to ensure that Yosef would present his interpretation only if he viewed the dream’s message as favorable, but if he viewed it as unfavorable, he would keep his view to himself and not speak it out.
We can now clearly appreciate what the Midrash is saying. The Midrash quotes Shlomo HaMelech’s teaching: “A dream comes with many issues.” That is, a dream has many possible meanings, some favorable and some unfavorable, and on this account Pharaoh was cautious about eliciting an interpretation of his dream. He therefore first asked Yosef: “Who is maintaining himself upon whom? I upon my god, or my god upon me?” He wanted Yosef to tell him whether he saw the dream as describing a benefit his god was going to grant him or a levy his god was going to extract from him. Yosef replied: “You upon your God.” Yosef was telling Pharaoh that he saw the dream as showing that Hashem was going to bring him glory. Thus, Yosef said (Bereishis 41:16): “God will respond with Pharaoh’s welfare.” And, indeed thus it was: Because of the famine, all of the wealth of Egypt and the neighboring countries came into Pharaoh’s hands.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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