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   by Jacob Solomon

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Fifth Series. No. 214.

The matter was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and his servants. Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can there be found such a man (i.e. Joseph) who has the spirit of G-d in him?” (41:37-8)

All Israel heard the judgment that the king (Solomon) rendered, and they felt awe for the king, for they saw that the wisdom of G-d was within in him, to dispense justice (Kings 1 3:28).

Dreams and wisdom form a vital part of both Parashat Miketz and its accompanying Haftara (on the rare occasions it does not fall on Hanukah). Both Joseph and Solomon were involved in dreams. Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, as referring to the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine. Whereupon Pharaoh exclaims, “Can there be found such a man who has the spirit of G-d in him” (supra).

King Solomon’s dream (whose ending only forms part of the Haftara) took place at the very beginning of his career. There, G-d appeared to him, saying that he could ask for one thing only, and He would grant it. Instead of making a personal request, Solomon asked G-d to be granted the necessary wisdom to judge the nation. As a result of Solomon’s selflessness, He said that in addition to wisdom he would grant him the other things that he could have asked for - namely wealth and honor (Kings 1 3:5-15). The wisdom to judge the people was immediately put to the test when two prostitutes appeared before him. The plaintiff claimed that she gave birth to a child and three days later the defendant also gave birth to a child. She claimed that the defendant had accidentally lain on her own child and killed him, and then she exchanged the dead baby for the plaintiff’s living baby. The defendant’s response was, “No! The living one is mine!” (3:22). Seeing that he had no choice but to intervene, he ordered, “Fetch me a sword! … Cut the living child into two, and give a half to each mother” (3:24-5). The defendant pleaded to give the child to the plaintiff so long as he would remain alive, even though she would lose him. The plaintiff insisted on letting the sword do its grisly work. Whereupon Solomon ordered the baby to be given to the defendant, as she was the true mother. Thus the story ends with Israelites feeling ‘awe for king, for they saw that the wisdom of G-d was within him, to dispense justice’ (supra).

Before Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, he declared that the wisdom to interpret dreams came from G-d: “It is not in me! G-d shall answer for the welfare of Pharaoh” (41:16), and in the actual interpretation he says, “what G-d is about to do, He has shown to Pharaoh” (41:28). Similarly, it was clear to the Israelites that the case of the two women had not been decided by Solomon’s own wisdom, but G-d’s - through the medium of Solomon.

What special, supernatural wisdom did Joseph demonstrate? After all, the interpretation of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows as referring to seven years of plenty and seven years of famine respectively appears correct, but hardly evidence of brilliance or more - especially as the events referred to were then in the future. What moved Pharaoh to see Joseph as being divinely inspired? And Solomon’s ‘Fetch me a sword’ is certainly an intelligent and even brilliant solution to the quarrel between the two prostitutes, yet it seems hard to grasp why this demonstrated the ‘spirit of G-d’ - superhuman intelligence. After all many people get sudden brilliant flashes of inspiration without having being told by G-d in a dream that they will be granted wisdom to judge the nation…

On the above incident of ‘the justice of Solomon’, Abarbanel brings the following suggestion. The real ‘wisdom of G-d’ was not to order the sword, but to read a person correctly and understand their true thoughts - as King David put it, “He (G-d) …creates their hearts and understands all their deeds” (Psalms 33:15). That was the wisdom G-d granted to Solomon - it was a skill not normally given to human beings. Long before the women opened their case, Solomon knew who the real mother was - just by looking at the faces of the women, he could tell who’s child was who. As Abarbanel explains, the real wisdom of G-d is not that He can decode people's words to uncover their intentions, but that He can see into a person's heart and know the truth about what that person thinks and feels, even before the person speaks.

Similarly, Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams showed this type of ‘wisdom of G-d’. For in comparing the Torah’s narrative of Pharaoh’s dreams (41:2-7) with Pharaoh’s recounting them to Joseph 41:17-32), there are several differences. One of them is that in Pharaoh’s dream the seven healthy cows stood next to the seven lean cows (41:3). Pharaoh did not mention this detail to Joseph. Nevertheless, as the Meshech Chochma points out, this detail was the essential fundamental in Joseph’s interpretation: ‘Behold - seven years are coming - there will be great satisfaction… then seven years of famine will rise after them’ (41:29-30) - straight afterwards, signified by the two groups of cows standing together. Thus, Joseph was also able to see beyond Pharaoh's words to get to the truth. Pharaoh recognized Joseph’s being guided by G-d, and that he could read his own mind, when he interpreted details he himself had withheld from Joseph. And such wisdom could be applied to the solution of his problems: ‘Could we find another like him - a man who has the spirit of G-d in him?’

It is important to note that Joseph came to this level of wisdom later in his career than Solomon. Joseph had previously interpreted two sets of dreams- his own, and those of Pharaoh’s butler and baker. With the first sets of dreams, he put himself in the center and is not recorded to have acknowledged G-d at all - and subsequently he found himself sold into slavery and then into the dungeon. With the second set, he did acknowledge G-d: on being approached for an interpretation he did say: “Is not G-d the source of all interpretations?” However, after he deciphered them he did not say, “This is what G-d says” as he later declared to Pharaoh, but rather, “This is its interpretation… the three branches are three days…” We also may observe gifted people saying, “Baruch Hashem” to everything, but they then assume an aura of personal grandeur and haughtiness as they demonstrate their obvious genius to a stunned and spellbound audience. Only on the third occasion - when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream - did he fully and sincerely show that he was only - and only - an agent of G-d’s wisdom. And this was reinforced nine years later when he revealed his true identity to his brothers, giving him the real interpretation of his first two dreams, “to save lives… and you a portion in the land, and to keep you alive to a great delivery… it is not you that sent me here, but G-d…” (45:5-7)


Who said to whom, and in what circumstances?

(a) I mention my transgressions today.

(b) It is beyond me!

(c) Let Pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man.

(d) G-d has made me forget all my hardship.

(e) Where do you come from?

(f) Your words will be tested.

(g) What is this, that G-d has done to us?

(h) Take double money with you.

(i) Peace be with you; do not fear.

(j) Why do you repay evil for good?

(k) Far be it for me to do that!


(a) Pharaoh’s chief butler to Pharaoh himself (41:9), in recommending the imprisoned Joseph as a likely successful interpreter of the dreams that were disturbing Pharaoh.

(b) Joseph to Pharaoh (41:16), in telling him at the outset that any skills in he had in interpreting dreams were from G-d, not from his own intelligence.

(c) Joseph to Pharaoh (41:33) - in concluding his foreseeing the imminent seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, he urges him to take urgent steps to make sure that enough food is stored to last though that period.

(d) Joseph, openly, in declaring his the name of his first-born son, Menasseh (41:51). The Hebrew root of his name can mean ‘to cause to remove’- in this case, memories of harder times…

(e) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (42:7), when they appeared before him in quest of food during the famine.

(f) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (42:16), after seizing all the brothers as hostages for the absent brother, Benjamin.

(g) Joseph’s brothers to each other (42:28), on their first return to Canaan with provisions from Egypt, when they found that their payments for their supplies had been unexpectedly returned.

(h) Jacob to all sons (43:12), to buy further supplies of grain.

(i) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (43:23), on their second appearance in Egypt, when they attempted to return the money inadvertently owed from their first appearance.

(j) Joseph to the head of his household (44:5), in ordering him to chase after the brothers, with a ruse of accusing them of stealing his own silver goblet.

(k) Joseph (incognito) the Viceroy of Egypt, to his brothers (44:17). Instead of condemning all the brothers, he sentenced only Benjamin - in whose sack his silver goblet was found - to slavery, and allowed the others to go free.


From where does Rashi derive the following ideas and values?

(a) A person should not perform marital relations in times of famine.

(b) The Israelites were exiled in Egypt for 210 years.

(c) A person should not put himself in unnecessary danger.

(d) A person suffering grave injustice should reflect on it as being Divine reaction for the sins of the past.


(a) The text states that Joseph’s two sons, Menasseh and Ephraim, were born before the famine. (41:40). The mention of the detail ‘before the famine’ hints at the tradition that one should not procreate in times of grave dearth (Ta’anit 11a). (However, in practice this does not apply to childless couples)

(b) This is derived from the words: ‘Go down - redu - there (to Egypt) and buy food for us (42:2). The numerical value of redu adds up to 210 - fitting into the tradition that the Israelites were exiled in Egypt for that length of time only (see Gen. Rabbah 91:2).

(c) Jacob did not allow Benjamin to join the first journey to Egypt ‘lest he might suffer tragedy’ (42:4). Rashi quotes the Midrash (Gen. Rabbah 91:9), which states that although tragedies can also happen at home, they are more likely to occur in travel because ‘Satan accuses when a person is already in danger’.

(d) When the brothers were accused - with seemingly incontrovertible evidence - of stealing the Viceroy’s goblet, they replied ‘G-d has found the sin of your servants’. (44:16) They knew they had done no such thing, but the ‘sin’ was some other wrong they committed, for which they were now receiving Divine-imposed punishment (after Gen. Rabbah 92:9).


1. From where, according to Sforno, may it be learnt that it is within the nature of Divine salvation to come hastily and unexpectedly?

2. Of all the blessings given in the Torah, Jacob's blessing to Ephraim and Menasseh is the one commonly used by parents to children today. What, according to Hirsch's commentary on this Parasha, is special about that particular blessing?

3. Why, according to the Ramban, did Joseph conceal his identity from his brothers?

4. Why, according to the Kli Yakar, did Joseph order money to be put secretly into the sacks of his brothers, on their first return from Egypt?

5. "You have robbed me of my children. Joesph is gone, Simeon is gone, and now you would take away Benjamin? All has fallen on me!" How are the Hebrew words for this last phrase - 'alai hayu kulana' interpreted by the Malbim?


1. Following Pharaoh’s desperation for a suitable interpretations for the dreams that deeply troubled him, ‘they rushed [Joseph] from the dungeon’ (41:14) into making a suitable appearance in Pharaoh’s presence. The Sforno derives that Divine salvation comes quickly and unexpectedly, as will be the coming of the Messiah [c.f. Malachi 3:1].

2. What is special about Joseph’s marriage to Asnath is that even though she was from the Egyptian aristocracy and he was a foreigner and former slave, the text hints that she adopted Joseph’s spiritual and moral outlook. This is derived from the phrase ‘Asnath gave birth to children for him’. (41:50) Joseph was the only Israelite in Egypt at the time, yet he managed to build up a family from pagan origins and within pagan society into spiritual models after which Israelite parents may bless their children. It was this blessing of phenomenal spiritual success that distinguished the upbringing of Menasseh and Ephraim.

3. Joseph grasped that his dreams were prophecies to be fulfilled. Even though he did not know exactly why, he understood that it was his duty to do all within his power to bring them to reality. That is why the Torah stresses that he remembered his dreams when he saw his brothers (42:9). He also knew that the two dreams had to be fulfilled in sequence. For the first dream, all eleven brothers had to bow down: therefore his ruse to lure Benjamin to Egypt. Only then could plans be made to bring Jacob to Egypt, for the fruition of the second dream. Were it not for his Divine-imposed obligation to implement the dreams, he would never brought the intense suffering on his father.

4. Joseph incognito arranged that brothers would find the Viceroy’s money in their sacks. They would then suspect that it had been put there on the pretext to denounce them as thieves and sell them into slavery. Joseph did this to bring atonement to those who had sold him as a slave: measure for measure.

5. The Malbim gives a novel interpretation of Jacob’s declaring 'alai hayu kulana' as not meaning that ‘all the tragedies are on me’, but ‘all the tragedies are because of me’. For he, Jacob, caused Joseph’s death by sending him to Shechem. He believed that he would be similarly accountable for Simeon - and Benjamin, if he let him go into danger.


1. Why did Pharaoh elevate a person who earlier the same day was a prisoner - and a foreigner at that - to the position of Viceroy of Egypt? Joseph may have interpreted the dream to Pharaoh’s satisfaction, but he did not behave as would be expected of a humble, helpless prisoner, brought before the monarch who had the power of life and death over his subjects. Indeed, even hearing the details of the dream he publicly brought the Almighty into the picture, in a country of paganism: It is not in me! G-d shall answer for the welfare of Pharaoh (41:16). And after interpreting the dream - before even hearing Pharaoh’s reaction, he presumes to tell him how to tax his own people in preparing the land for the seven years of famine.

2. Why did Joseph plant the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack? (44:2,4-5) How was his cause and that of the future Israelite nation advanced by this action?

My efforts at tackling the issues raised in #1 and #2 may be found on the Shema Yisrael website for Parashat Miketz for 5761.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashat Miketz (and others) from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.


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