This week's Torah portion opens with the recounting of Pharoh's fascinating dream, the first part about the weak cows consuming their strong counterparts and the second about the thin sheaves of corn swallowing the healthy sheaves.
This week's Torah portion opens with the recounting of Pharoh's fascinating dream, the first part about the weak cows consuming their strong counterparts and the second about the thin sheaves of corn swallowing the healthy sheaves. The Torah then repeats the whole dream as Pharoh, searching for a satisfactory interpretation, describes his unusual experience to Joseph.
Interestingly, there are several differences in the description of the cows and the sheaves between the first time the story is told and the second time it is recounted. Specifically, why did Pharoh describe the weak cows as being Dalot (Gen. 41:19), literally translated as "poor", upon repeating the story to Joseph while that term was not used in the dream itself? Wouldn't it have been logical for the Torah to have used the same adjectives each time the story is told? In fact, when Joseph presents his interpretation, he returns to the original description of the weak cows and does not call them Dalot !?
Rashi, an 11th-century French commentator, explains that when Pharoh asked his sorcerers and wise men for their interpretation, they responded that he would have seven daughters whom he would bury, an explanation with which Pharoh was not satisfied. How did Joseph know the correct interpretation while the sorcerers and wise men did not?
The Beis Halevi, a 19th-century commentator, suggests that Pharoh intentionally misdescribed the cows to Joseph as being Dalot to determine whether or not Joseph was really receiving divine inspiration. Joseph, realizing the trick, omits the adjective Dalot when he offers his explanation of the dreams, as if to say to Pharoh that the cows had not actually been Dalot in the dream. From this, Pharoh understood that the spirit of G-d rested on Joseph.
The Beis Halevi further explains that it was this change in language itself -- Pharoh's attempt to mislead him -- which provided Joseph the key to the dream's interpretation. In Hebrew, the adjective Dalot is reserved specifically for the description of inferior grain. Faced with the mystery of what the parable of the cows represented, Joseph inferred from Pharoh's usage of the strange adjective Dalot that the cows were representative of grain. From this, Joseph constructed his interpretation of seven years of plenty (good grain) and seven years of famine (inferior grain).
Thus, Joseph drew his understanding of the dream from Pharoh's trick itself. He understood that G-d's guiding hand can be seen in all facets of life, even through another person's attempt at deception. In the long run, everything is for the best. If Pharoh was trying to deceive Joseph, there must have been a hidden divine plan.
From this story of Joseph, we can learn that faith in G-d can find its way into all aspects of life. There may be a positive result even from what may seem to be an absolutely negative situation. This is an important idea to take into consideration when dealing with interpersonal relationships, when someone has done something which clearly seems to be to your detriment. Hopefully, we can all develop our eyes and our interpretive skills to see the hidden good in everything.
Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is a student at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins Univeristy, both in Baltimore.
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