Friday, December 18, 2009

Parshat Mikeitz - פרשת מקץ

I hope you'll forgive me, but I've been ill this week, so I haven't been able to prepare as I'd like to for my D'var Torah. As such, the following is adapted from a Dvar Torah by Rafi Jager on

"וְהִנֵּה שֶׁבַע-פָּרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת, עֹלוֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶן, דַּלּוֹת וְרָעוֹת תֹּאַר מְאֹד, וְרַקּוֹת בָּשָׂר:  לֹא-רָאִיתִי כָהֵנָּה בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לָרֹעַ - And, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favoured and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness"

Parshat Miketz opens with the recounting of Pharoh's fascinating nightmares. In his dreams, Pharoh sees seven weak cows consuming an equal number of stronger cows, and then views seven thin sheaves of corn swallowing seven healthy sheaves.

Not content with one description of the episode, the Torah then relates the whole dream again as Pharoh describes his unnerving experience to Joseph, in an attempt to gain some understanding as to the meaning of his vision.

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 (B'reishit 41:19), literally translated as "poor", upon repeating the story to Yoseph? The terms used in the Torah at the time of the dream were "רָעוֹת מַרְאֶה, וְדַקּוֹת בָּשָׂר - ill favoured and lean-fleshed;" why did Pharoh opt to describe the event in different words?

Wouldn't it have been logical for the Torah to have used the same adjectives each time the story is told? Indeed, when Joseph presents his interpretation, he returns to the original description of the weak cows and does not refer to them by the adjective Pharos used. How did he know to avoid this word? Rashi 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. Again, how did Yoseph know the correct interpretation while the sorcerers and wise men did not? The Bet Halevi suggests that Pharoh intentionally misdescribed the cows to Yoseph as being דלות/poor to determine whether or not Yoseph was really receiving divine inspiration.

Yoseph though, realised the trick, and omited the misleading adjective when he offers his explanation of the dreams. Yoseph's message was as if to say to Pharoh that the cows had not actually been "poor" in the dream. From this, Pharoh understood that the spirit of G-d rested on Yoseph. The Bet Halevi further explains that it was this change in language itself - Pharoh's attempt to mislead him - which provided Yoseph 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, Yoseph inferred from Pharoh's usage of the strange adjective Dalot that the cows were representative of grain. From this, Yoseph constructed his interpretation of seven years of plenty (good grain) and seven years of famine (inferior grain).

Thus, Yoseph drew his understanding of the dream from Pharoh's trick itself. He understood that Hashem'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 and Yoseph understood that even if Pharoh was trying to deceive him, there must have been a hidden divine plan.

From this story, 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.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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