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   by Jacob Solomon

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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, but 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)



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