Torah Weekly

For the week ending 23 December 2006 / 2 Tevet 5767

Parshat Mikeitz

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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It is two years later. Pharaoh has a dream. He is unsatisfied with all attempts to interpret it. Pharaoh's wine chamberlain remembers that Yosef accurately interpreted his dream while in prison. Yosef is released from prison and brought before Pharaoh. He interprets that soon will begin seven years of abundance followed by seven years of severe famine. He tells Pharaoh to appoint a wise person to store grain in preparation for the famine. Pharaoh appoints him as viceroy to oversee the project. Pharaoh gives Yosef an Egyptian name, Tsafnat Panayach, and selects Osnat, Yosef's ex-master's daughter, as Yosef's wife. Egypt becomes the granary of the world. Yosef has two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. Yaakov sends his sons to Egypt to buy food. The brothers come before Yosef and bow to him. Yosef recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Mindful of his dreams, Yosef plays the part of an Egyptian overlord and acts harshly, accusing them of being spies. Yosef sells them food, but keeps Shimon hostage until they bring their brother Binyamin to him as proof of their honesty. Yosef commands his servants to replace the purchase-money in their sacks. On the return journey, they discover the money and their hearts sink. They return to Yaakov and retell everything. Yaakov refuses to let Binyamin go to Egypt, but when the famine grows unbearable, he accedes. Yehuda guarantees Binyamin's safety, and the brothers go to Egypt. Yosef welcomes the brothers lavishly as honored guests. When he sees Binyamin he rushes from the room and weeps. Yosef instructs his servants to replace the money in the sacks, and to put his goblet inside Binyamin's sack. When the goblet is discovered, Yosef demands Binyamin become his slave as punishment. Yehuda interposes and offers himself instead, but Yosef refuses.


The Fat Cats

“…so he sent and summoned all the necromancers of Egypt and its wise men; Pharaoh related his dream to them, but none could interpret it for Pharaoh.” (41:8)

The hallmark of a truthful answer is that once you hear it you wonder why you ever had the question in the first place.

In this week’s Torah portion Pharaoh summoned all the necromancers and the wise men to interpret his dreams; yet they failed to convince him with their interpretations.

The butler remembered that he had once been in similar circumstances, and that Yosef had interpreted his dream in such a way that as soon as he heard the interpretation he knew it to be true.

The word in Hebrew for a necromancer is chartum; its root is charat, which means an engraving. The chartumim were experts in hieroglyphics. A hieroglyphic is a symbol, it is not the thing itself. The chartumim tried to understand Pharaoh’s dream emblematically. Yosef interpreted Pharaoh’s dream not as a hieroglyphic, not as an obscure symbol, but using the simple and clear meaning of the dream itself. For example, the Nile dispenses its gifts only once a year, so the seven cows that rise up from the river are clearly an indication of seven years.

Even though G-d uses metaphors to communicate with us, the plain meaning is always contained within the metaphor. The word in Hebrew for interpretation is drash, which means to bring out from the inside — in other words, to ‘read out’ the meaning, not to ‘read in.’

In addition to the necromancers, however, Pharaoh also summoned his wise men. Why was it so difficult for them to interpret his dream? Their expertise was not locked into symbolic, hieroglyphic understanding. Why didn’t their great wisdom lead them to the correct interpretation?

The Egyptians denied the existence of G-d. Their wisdom was dictated by human logic. Logically, the weak can never defeat the strong, the few cannot vanquish the many — life’s emaciated cows cannot eat the fat. This is what baffled the wise men of Egypt.

Yosef introduced his interpretation by saying that G-d would interpret Pharaoh’s dream, for there exists a higher logic beyond the grasp of man. “My thoughts are not like your thoughts, and My ways are not like your ways.” (Yishayahu 55:8) According to G-d’s logic, the weak can overcome the strong.

The Torah portion of Miketz is always read on Chanukah. The Greeks also denied the existence of G-d. Thus, in their world-view too, the weak cannot vanquish the strong, or the few, the many.

The miracles of Chanukah revealed that there is a logic beyond the mind of man, in which “the mighty were given over into the hand of the weak, the many into the hands of the few.”

If G-d wills it, the fat cats of history can find themselves as a mere snack for the skinny.

  • Sources: Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch; Davsha shel Torah in HaDrash v’ha’Iyun

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