“Joseph’s Bold Advice to Pharaoh-–Revisited”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Mikeitz, Joseph, the Hebrew slave boy, is hurried from the dungeon to stand before Pharaoh, to interpret Pharaoh’s dream.

After masterfully interpreting the king’s dreams, and predicting seven years of feast followed by seven years of famine, the audacious Joseph suggests to Pharaoh how to deal with the impending crisis. In Genesis 41:33, Joseph says to Pharaoh, וְעַתָּה יֵרֶא פַרְעֹה אִישׁ נָבוֹן וְחָכָם, וִישִׁיתֵהוּ עַל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם, “Now let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt.” Joseph then lays out his plan of storing food during the years of plenty so that it can be distributed during the years of famine.

The commentators are surprised that the Hebrew slave has the chutzpa to tell Pharaoh what to do. After all, this does not seem to be part of the Divine message.

Apparently, it is very much part of the Divine message, communicated in a subtle way, through Pharaoh’s dream. The classical commentators (see parashat Mikeitz 5771-2010) suggest several explanations.

There are, however, other approaches recorded in the Iturei Torah.  Drawing from the wide-ranging sources of Hassidut and Mussar, the Iturei Torah cites several commentators who offer various novel insights into this issue.

The classical commentator, the Alshich notes that the dream itself points to the solution that Joseph suggests. Referring to Pharaoh’s second dream of the stalks that grew from a single stem, the Alshich recalls the statement in Brachot 56b, where the idea of a stalk in a dream is regarded in the Talmud as wisdom. Joseph, therefore, concludes that the dream indicates the need for a wise man to deal with this issue.

The Nachal Kidumim asserts that the fact that Pharaoh awoke during his dream, went back to sleep and dreamed a second dream (Genesis 41:4-7), means that the second dream is a direct continuation of the first dream. Therefore, Joseph is required to interpret the conclusion of the dream differently from the first dream of the fat and lean cows. Joseph begins his new interpretation by pronouncing the word וְעַתָּה “V’ah’tah,” meaning, “And now.” Says Joseph, “And now, Pharaoh, the reason that you awoke, is because you need to wake up from your stupor, and recognize the urgency of the moment. You, Pharaoh, must do everything in your power to find a wise and discerning person who will save Egypt from the destruction of the famine.”

The Iturei Torah cites an unidentified Rabbi D.D.S., who, according to Kol Omer Kra, maintains that Joseph needed to prove to Pharaoh that every detail of his dream was true. Until this point, all the details fell into place with Joseph’s prediction of the years of feast and famine, except for the specific description of Pharaoh seeing himself standing on the Nile.

Joseph now explains to Pharaoh that the image of him standing on the Nile is an allusion to the fact that Pharaoh must now take upon himself to play the role of the Nile. Pharaoh must transform himself into the Nile, and become the provider and the supporter of Egypt during the years of famine. This role will become a reality when Pharaoh seeks out a discerning and wise man and appoints him over the land of Egypt.

The Ma’ayana Shel Torah suggests that normally it would have been sufficient to show Pharaoh only the dream of the years of plenty. However, the Al-mighty revealed to Pharaoh that a famine would also strike Egypt, in order to allow Pharaoh to prepare for the famine. Pharaoh must address the issue of the famine by seeking out a discerning and wise man to set over Egypt.

Peninim on the Torah explains Joseph’s temerity by citing a clever parable, attributed to Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ferber. Rabbi Ferber tells the story of two military officers who were thoroughly absorbed with their own glory. They once arrived at a train station and found a band playing. Because of their extreme hubris, each one thought that the band was playing in his honor. Seeking to resolve their dispute, they decided to consult a local Jew who was known for his wisdom.

It was around Passover time and the impoverished Jew was distraught that he would have no wine and matzahs for himself and his family for the holiday. When the two officers approached him for mediation, he agreed to do so on the condition that they pay him fifty rubles. After they had paid, he said to them, “The band was not there for either one of you. It was there for me, so that I would have money to purchase provisions for Passover.”

Similarly, says Rabbi Ferber, Pharaoh’s dreams were not for Pharaoh or for the wise men of Egypt. After all, G-d can bring about a famine without resorting to dreams. The purpose of the dreams was for Joseph’s sake, so that he could be released from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, and become the viceroy to Pharaoh. Therefore, Joseph has no compunction about offering advice to Pharaoh, and instructing Pharaoh to seek out an astute and wise person, whom Pharaoh should set over the land of Egypt.

When Pharaoh heard this, he immediately recognized Joseph’s special talents, and declared, “There is no one more wise than you. Therefore you will be in charge of my palace.”

The Peninim Al HaTorah concludes by saying that we are frequently unaware that G-d is sending us a message. We, too, often think that the message is for someone else and not us. We need to open our eyes and ears, to listen for, and perceive, the continuous messages that G-d sends us.

May you be blessed.

The joyous festival of Chanukah began Sunday night, December 6th, 2015, and continues for eight days, through nightfall on Monday, December 14th, 2015.

Wishing you all a very Happy Chanukah!