|Pharaoh, the tyrant who would eventually enslave the Jewish people, had two dreams. The first involved seven robust cows emerging from the Nile and pasturing in the marshland. Then, seven emaciated cows emerged from the Nile and devoured them. The second dream involved seven healthy ears of grain growing on one stalk and seven thin, wind beaten ears of grain growing next to them; the thin ears of grain swallowed the seven healthy ears of grain. Pharaoh wanted someone to interpret his dreams.
Now it came to pass in the morning that he (Pharaoh) was troubled, so he called the elders of Egypt and all its sages, and Pharaoh related to them his dream, but no one interpreted them for Pharaoh. (41:8)
There’s an inconsistency in this verse. Pharaoh related his dream (singular), but then we are told that no one was able to interpret them (plural). Pharaoh referred to both dreams as one due to their common denominator—weak consumes strong. Being as the dreams occurred one after the other in the same night, one interpretation would suffice to explain them both—therefore he referred to it in the singular. His wise men referred to them in plural because they didn’t see the connection between the dreams—they were two separate dreams.Pharaoh knew he needed someone more capable than his experts, and that’s why he brought in Joseph, the expert dream interpreter. But how could Pharaohs wise men fail to make the obvious connection between the dreams?
One commentary offers the following hypothesis. The idea that Pharaoh would ever be lacking something was so foreign to his advisors that they never entertained the notion of interpreting the dream, as Joseph eventually did, that the land would be so barren that even Pharaoh wouldn’t have food. Even if there were a shortage, he (they thought) would not be affected. But Joseph understood the magnitude of what would eventually happen and therefore gave his keen advice of how to manage the situation. However, we once again return to our question—how could these wise men completely overlook the obvious connection of the dreams>The Midrash gives the following insight based on the following verse:
One who ridicules seeks wisdom but there is none, yet knowledge will come easily to one of understanding. (Proverbs 14:6)
Pharaoh’s advisors were sought wisdom (to interpret the dreams) but couldn’t find any whereas that knowledge came easy to Joseph, because he was “one of understanding.” People who don’t work hard to fully comprehend an issue, will not know how to apply themselves in important matters when they need to. If one doesn’t learn how to critically read a book, if all he does is read summaries or the Wikipedia entry, then he will not know how to apply himself to understand a subject; he won’t have the necessary skills.According to this explanation, the reason Pharaoh’s advisors didn’t see the easy solution was because they didn’t know how to properly think an issue through; when it came to interpreting the dreams, they weren’t sure what to do or say. But Joseph was different; he was a thorough thinker. When someone is used to taking the time to get clarity by thinking things through, then when he sees something obvious, he will immediately recognize it. A person might have a conflict at work, in marriage, or some other relationship and see no resolution yet when (s)he speaks it over to a person of understanding, (s)he realizes there are many options of how to approach this challenge.
Joseph was, in essence, saying, “You had two dreams in the same night, both of which depicted robust, healthy food being consumed by scrawny, weak food. It must be that your food, which is now in robust and healthy times will be consumed by weaker and faint times. Being as Joseph was used to thinking clearly and thoroughly, he was able to realize when an issue, like the one at hand, wasn’t deep and consequently didn’t require much thought.
There’s a clear lesson here for Jews. Jewish education isn’t only about understanding texts, history, laws, and customs in a deep way. The rigor of Jewish education is not so that we will get into a better college or graduate school, although that surely will be an outcome. The unique, broad, and incisive way we delve into texts and history, give us tools to grow not only intellectually but also emotionally. It helps us to discover our personal gifts, which allow us to fully engage in the world and do it in a manner that retains our Jewish integrity.
Although Pharaoh knew his dreams were connected, he wasn’t able to find the link. It took Joseph, who was ostracized by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold as a slave, and falsely imprisoned to find an answer. As Nietzsche famously said, “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” Pharaoh never experienced hardship but Joseph had, but those hardships never broke him. Pharaoh didn’t have a solution to his dreams because, from his perspective, it was inconceivable that weak scrawny cows (or stalks) could consume robust ones.
How do you navigate your life’s journey? Do you find patterns in your life? Do you connect the dots of where you are right now in life as far as relationships, career, and a sense of inner peace? Do your hardships break or strengthen you? The Torah is the birthright of every Jew; its stories of personal and family misfortune guide us in our own challenges. When we deeply analyze the Torah’s narratives such as sibling rivalry, favoritism, power and fortune and their potential conflicts for the individual and society, we find structure and moral clarity, as well as a hierarchy of values allowing us to navigate these potential pitfalls when they occur in our lives. The answers are there but the only way to discover them is by being serious about learning about the lives and history of those, like Joseph, who have paved the path for us.
(Source: HaEmek Davar, Hirchav Davar)
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