Former Rosh Beit Midrash in Memphis (2005-2008)
From the Failure of “Go now and see to your brothers’ welfare” to the success of “God will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh”
“I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it” (41, 15).
After Pharaoh dreams his famous dream, his necromancers, the Chartumim, offer interpretations, but he doesn’t accept them.
The midrash tells us what solutions the Chartumim offer:
“Rabbi Yehoshua of Sichnin, in the name of Rabbi Levi: they did solve it (the dream), but their voice did not enter his ears; The seven good cows – you will have seven daughters. The seven bad cows – you will bury seven daughters. The seven good sheaves – you will conquer seven kingdoms. The seven bad sheaves – 7 kingdoms will rebel against you”. (Bereshit Rabbah, 89, 6)
Why did Pharaoh not accept these interpretations?
Nechama Leibowitz brings several explanations found in the commentaries:
The Abarbanel says that Pharaoh knew that both dreams must have a unified interpretation. He sees it as one dream: “and Pharaoh related to them his dream” (not dreams). The Chartumim do not offer one explanation, but two: “but no one interpreted them for Pharaoh”.
The “Midrash HaGadol” offers a second reason:
“Yosef said to him: ‘How do you know they did not solve it correctly?’ He said to him: ‘just as I saw the dream, so too I saw its interpretation, so they cannot fool me.'”
Pharaoh saw the interpretation of his dream but he forgot it, so when he hears the solutions offered by the Chartimim he intuitively knows they are incorrect.
After Yosef offers his explanation, immediately Pharaoh remembered the solution, which was just as Yosef said.
Shada”l gives yet a third reason:
“…For what Pharaoh was looking for was that from his dream they would predict what will befall his people, and how his fore-knowledge would help. For he believed that there was a reason G-d sent him his dreams… and that will also explain why Yosef gave the king advice, for that is what he requested; not to know the future, but to know it in order to prepare towards it.
The Shada”l’s explanation will offer us a path to understand how Yosef’s tumultuous life journey and Pharaoh’s intuition regarding his dream came together.
The Shada”l asks why Yosef offered the king advice. Why was he (and not the Chartumim) the right person in the right place? His answer is the Pharaoh understood that if he is being given a glimpse of the future that must be because there is something he must do in preparation towards that future. Yosef provides not only a future prediction, but also a plan of action to avoid the looming calamity.
I want to add – what led Yosef to do that? Where did he learn that merely predicting the future is not enough?
As we know, up until this point Yosef suffered greatly from his dreams. Not only did his dreams not come true, his entire life became a mirror image of the lofty dreams; instead of ruling over his brothers he becomes a slave and prisoner. Hashem takes Yosef through a difficult process of maturation and deepening understanding of reality, and through that, eventually, to a process of Teshuva. In the past, as a spoiled favorite child, well aware of his abilities and good looks, he failed to understand the significance of his dreams. He cannot remain passive in light of this revelation. He must actively work to fulfil it. Yaakov, as opposed to his son, did understand that he must take the initiative and that he must carefully prepare himself so that he may reach the prophesized goal. He realized that in order for the dream to reach its fruition the entire family must stay united under Yosef’s leadership, and therefore Yosef must find a way to renew his relationship with his brothers, he must ‘go and see his brothers welfare’. That is why he sends Yosef to find his brothers in Shechem. His mistake was in thinking that merely sending Yosef to meet his brothers would lead to their reconciliation. He paid dearly for that mistake, which teaches us that even if we know where we need to get to in the end, there are many ways to get there, some more difficult and painful than others. We must exercise care to choose the correct path.
Pharaoh was lucky enough to meet Yosef after he already paid the price and learnt the lesson of not taking responsibility for the fulfilment of his dream. Yosef has learnt that a dream is not a promise, but rather a call to action.
His interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream is also a rectification of his own misinterpretation of his dreams, and will lead to their fulfilment as well, as he becomes the viceroy of Egypt.
The purpose of the dream is to give an answer that will “bring peace” to the dreamer and that will allow him to safely overcome the obstacles along the way. A true interpretation includes taking responsibility of the dreamer’s role in G-d’s plan.
“Great are those who dream dreams and turn the dreams into reality”
(Rav Moshe Tzvi Neriyah)