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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Miketz – Time for a Wakeup Call

Posted by rabbiart on November 30, 2010

Commenting on Pharoah’s first dream, where he stands over the river to see the healthy and then the unhealthy cattle come up out of it, R. Yochanon contrasts Pharoah’s dream-position with Jacob’s.  Referring to the verse, he says “the wicked stand over their gods.” As for the righteous, their G-d stands over them, as it says in Breshit 28, 13, “Behold, the Lord stood over him.” He refers, of course, to Jacob’s dream of the ladder which extends to the heavens. 

Reading the opening scene of our parshah, I find myself thinking of the Akedah.  In our parshah, the word הִנֵּה  (henei) occurs six times in the first seven verses.  It is as if the dreams – and their message – are being shoved in Pharoah’s face so that he must pay attention to them.  Contrast that to the opening of the Akedah, where HaShem simply calls out to Abrahan by his name, and he answers   הִנֵּנִי   (henai-ni or “Here I am”).

Is makes for a delightful story that all of Pharoah’s magicians and all of Pharoah’s wise men cannot decipher these dreams.  It sets up nicely for Joseph to emerge from jail, give credit to HaShem, interpret Pharoah’s dreams and cleverly suggest that somebody really, really smart should be appointed over all of Egypt and navigate the ship of state through the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine that will follow.


But really! Are Pharoah’s dreams that difficult to understand? Seems pretty clear that something bad is coming.  Sick cattle eating healthy cattle?  When cows (notwithstanding commercial agribusiness practices) do not normally eat cows, or any kind of animal at all?  When sheaves, that have no mouths, eat other sheaves?  Could not any reasonably awake person infer that good times will be followed by bad.  (Take a time out and listen to Led Zeppelin sing Good Times Bad Times you know I had my share if you wish.)


Further on in the Midrash R. Joshua of Siknin says in the name of R. Levi: “There were indeed interpreters of the dream, but their interpretations were unacceptable to him.”  R. Levi reads verse seven to say that the magicians and wise men were able to interpret the dreams, but incorrectly.  He gives some examples.  The seven good cows mean that Pharoah will have seven daughters, but the seven lean cows mean they will all die, and he will bury them.  The seven good ears mean that Pharoah will conquer seven countries, but the seven sick ears mean that the seven countries will successfully revolt against Pharoah.  He continues by quoting Proverbs 14, 6, which reads “A scorner seeks wisdom but does not find it, but knowledge is easy to one who has discernment.”

Borrowing from the modern political world (but not making a political comment) it would appear that Pharoah cannot bring himself to face an inconvenient truth; he is not all-powerful, he cannot control the agricultural environment, he cannot prevent bad times that are coming to him and his country.  At best he can prepare.  And some would argue that he (or shall we blame Joseph) uses the opportunity to exploit his own countrymen by taking their own output from them in good times and returning it – at a price – in bad times.  (Note verse 56 where Joseph sells – not gives – the stored up food to the Egyptians.

As we read this parshah and wrestle as always with the question “what is the Torah telling us” perhaps we should think about our own inconvenient truths, whether they are personal or have implications for our communities and our country.  (OK, now I’m getting close to a political comment, or you can make your own).  Are we like Abraham, who answers “Here I am” at a single, one-word call?  Or are we like Pharoah, who really, really needs a wake-up call, and who uses a national crisis to exploit his own people.

You be the decider (so to speak).


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