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   by Jacob Solomon

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Pharaoh said to Joseph: 'I had a dream, but there is no one to interpret it. I have heard that you can understand and interpret dreams'.

Joseph answered Pharaoh: 'It is not in me: G-d shall answer for the welfare of Pharaoh' (41:15-16).

But G-d is not recorded to have whispered the interpretation of Pharaoh's dream into Joseph's ear. Yet Joseph appears to give his own elucidation in G-d's name. 'G-d has told Pharaoh what He is about to do' (41:25) - the seven healthy cows and seven healthy ears of corn signifying seven years of plenty, and the seven thin cows and seven parched ears of corn signifying seven years of famine. He continues to bring G-d into the interpretation with: 'G-d has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do' (42:28), and 'G-d is hastening to make these events happen' (42:32).

In contrast, when he recommends that Pharaoh should put an appropriate person over the nation to ensure that food during the years of plenty is put into storage for the years of famine, he speaks in his own name, not G-d's. Thus it seems that Joseph himself is answering for the welfare of Pharaoh, not G-d.

This may be explained in the following way. He viewed these dreams by definition as prophesies - communications from G-d, to the recipient. 'Interpretations belong to G-d' (40:8) means that these dreams are means of divine communication - and are recognized as such. Thus the first pair of dreams was to Joseph. The second pair was to Pharaoh's butler and baker. And the third was to Pharaoh himself. All three dreams were focused on one thing - the 'welfare' and the future of the recipient. Nothing else. It was sacred. It was not to be taken advantage for any other purpose.

Thus, on the previous occasion where the imprisoned Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh's butler and baker, he declared that 'all interpretations belong to G-d' (40:8). It was the chief butler's dream, not Joseph's dream. Joseph correctly interpreted that the butler would be restored to his former post - that was as far as 'all interpretations belong to G-d' went. It was not for Joseph to take advantage of that divine communication to the butler to promote something irrelevant to that communication - to persuade the butler to put a word in for him to obtain his freedom. (In addition, Rashi and other commentators explain that the reason the chief butler forgot to put in a good word for Joseph was a signal from G-d that he should have put his trust in Him and not in mere mortals.)

Joseph's first words to Pharaoh were essentially the same as to the butler and the baker: 'G-d will answer for the welfare of Pharaoh'. That dream was for the future of Pharaoh and the lands under his authority. By including G-d's name in his interpretation, he stressed that the dreams were indeed for His determining 'the welfare of Pharaoh'.

But this time he did not take advantage of others' (in this case, Pharaoh's) dreams to put forward the case for his release. He focused on one thing only - service. Service to G-d's message of the forthcoming seven years of famine. He did not focus on his own cause, He focused on Pharaoh's cause. He outlined a plan so that the Egyptian civilization would not be brought to an end through prolonged famine. That would require a 'wise and understanding man', to put into action the food storage and distribution schemes - which (following the Ramban) included finding means to prevent food decaying in storage, and knowing how much food to store and how much to sell at any given moment. Thus his entire drive was on Pharaoh's welfare - not his own.

And that explains Pharaoh's response: 'Can we find anyone of his caliber (for that task) - who has the spirit of G-d within him?' (41:38). The very fact that he did not argue put his name forward for the task - when it would have been logical to do so - but put forward plans for Pharaoh's welfare showed indeed that his trust in G-d was complete. It was that which impressed Pharaoh.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

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.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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