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In the flash of an eye, Pharaoh elevated Yosef from imprisoned Hebrew slave to governor of the most powerful nation in the world. Why?

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Miketz” (Genesis 41:1–44:17) and it we read of Pharaoh’s dreams. In his first dream, Pharaoh was standing by the Nile. Seven fat cows emerged from the river followed by seven flimsy cows. The flimsy cows then eat the fat cows.

Pharaoh wakes up, and realizes he had a dream. He goes back to sleep and has another dream. In this dream, he sees seven plump ears of corn and seven flimsy ears of corn. The flimsy ears of corn eat the plump ears of corn. Pharaoh again wakes up and realizes he had a second dream.

Pharaoh calls for his wizards and advisors seeking an interpretation of his dreams. Nobody, however, offers Pharaoh a satisfying interpretation. Seeing Pharaoh’s frustration, his butler speaks up and tells him of a Hebrew slave in prison, Yosef, who has a track record of successfully interpreting dreams. Pharaoh sends for Joseph quickly who shaves, changes his clothes, and appears before Pharaoh.

Pharaohs tells Yosef his dreams and Yosef interprets them but not before making it clear that his dream interpreting powers come from God alone. Yosef then tells him that his two dreams are really one and the same, and are a message from God. The seven fat cows and the seven good ears of corn symbolize seven years of plenty while the seven flimsy cows and the seven flimsy ears of corn symbolize the seven years of famine that would come afterward.

Pharaoh accepts Joseph’s interpretation of his dreams and then appoints him to be in charge of Egypt’s economy to ensure that the nation doesn’t suffer during the famine. The Torah states: “And Pharaoh said to Yosef, ‘As God has informed you of all this, there is no one who is as understanding and wise as you,’” and he appoints Yosef as governor of Egypt.

The questions is asked: How could Pharaoh trust Joseph who just a moment ago was labeled a criminal and a slave? Not to mention that he was a Jew – possibly the worst designation of all! And Yosef is now second in command of the most powerful nation in the world!? What’s going on over here?

It is explained that Pharaoh saw Yosef’s extreme honesty when he began by saying that he had no power to interpret dreams on his own and that it is all a gift from God. Yosef did not want to take credit or have Pharaoh believe that he has some kind of supernatural power. This total honesty and disclosure showed Pharaoh that Yosef could be completely trusted.

Note that Pharaoh merely saw one minor positive point in Yosef’s character and he ran with it. Pharaoh’s approach to people’s good character traits should be ours, as well. We should find small positive qualities in others and praise them for it. And even better: use their talents and skills for mutual benefit. When people see that their positive characteristics are noticed and appreciated they strive to do more. Pharaoh built up Yosef, we should do our best to build up others as well.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.



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