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 Parshas Mikeitz - Vol. 2, Issue 5

Vay’hu mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim u’Paroh cholem v’hinei omeid al hay’or (41:1)
Vay’dabeir Paroh el Yosef b’chalomi hineni omeid al s’fas hay’or (41:17)

There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dreams of Pharaoh and the way in which he related them to Yosef. For example, in his dream he saw himself actually standing on the river, while in relating it to Yosef he claimed to have been standing on the banks of the river. Why did he change this detail when recounting his dream to Yosef?

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that the Nile river was one of the Egyptian gods, and in envisioning himself literally standing on it, he was showing how wicked and conceited he was, in thinking himself even more mighty and powerful than the god he purported to worship, yet he was embarrassed to admit as such to Yosef, so he doctored it and reported having seen himself standing by the banks of the river. Yosef recognized the change and made no reference to the banks of the river in interpreting the dreams, as he knew that hadn’t been part of the original dream.

Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Boruch Teumim-Frankel beautifully suggest that this is the meaning of the verse in Tehillim (81:6) eidus v’Yehosef samo b’tzeiso al Eretz Mitzrayim s’fas lo yadati esh’ma, which can be read as referring to the testimony of Yosef upon his rise to greatness in Egypt, that he heard a reference to “the banks” of the river, but had no clue why it was being mentioned or how to interpret it as it hadn’t been part of the original dream!


V’hinei sheva paros acheiros olos achareihen min hay’or raos mareh v’dakos basar (41:3)
V’hinei sheva paros acheiros olos achareihen dalos v’raos to’ar m’od v’rakos basar (41:19)

There are numerous discrepancies between the actual dreams of Pharaoh and the way in which he related them to Yosef. For example, although in his dream he saw seven cows with ugly mareh, he related to Yosef that they had ugly to’ar. What is the difference between these words, and why did he switch?

The Torah praises (29:17) Rochel and writes that she was both y’fas to’ar viy’fas mareh. Rashi explains that these seemingly synonymous terms are not redundant, as the term to’ar refers to the external appearance and beauty of one’s physical face, while mareh describes the internal, spiritual shine which radiates forth from within, both of which were present in Rochel.

Rabbi Mordechai Biser notes that Egyptian society was so materialistic and absorbed in the hedonistic pleasures of ths world that they were even buried with their possessions, as they couldn’t imagine a World to Come consisting of anything but more of the same physical pleasures which they viewed as the pinnacle of happiness. In his dream, Pharaoh was shown a destruction which would permeate to the inner core of his corrupt society, yet precisely because he was so indulgent, he wasn’t even able to grasp the hint. In his eyes beauty was skin deep, and he was unable to describe the animals as anything but ugly in their external appearance.

As the Ramban writes that the Egyptian exile contained within it the roots of all of the other four exiles which followed, it isn’t surprising us to find that the Greeks in the times of the Chashmonaim were so completely absorbed in the worship of external beauty that they reached the point of outlawing the study of the internal and spiritual Torah. Similarly, a person living in 21st-century America doesn’t need to think deeply in order to recognize that history repeats itself and to see how the superficial values of the Egyptians and Greeks fill the streets which surround us and permeate the very air which we breathe.

As we light our Chanuka menorahs and celebrate the miraculous triumph of the righteous Chashmonaim over these false world-views, it behooves us to take a moment to internalize the deeper understanding that this wasn’t merely a simple military victory, but rather the prevailing of the underlying spiritual philosophy for which the Chashmonaim stood, a philosophy of inner depth and spiritual beauty which we should strive to emulate and incorporate into our daily lives.


V’ata yeireh Paroh ish navon v’chachom vi’shiseihu al eretz Mitzrayim (41:33)

After Yosef was freed from prison in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting such an idea.

Pharaoh requested Yosef to interpret his dreams. After doing so, why did Yosef proceed to offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him? Further, why did Pharaoh not only not mind that Yosef had overstepped his mandate, but became so impressed with him that he appointed him to oversee the new project?

The Vilna Gaon answers with a brilliant explanation. A person who is told that his dream refers to events in the distant future has no reason to believe the interpretation given to him, as there is no way to test its accuracy. In fact, an interpreter who doubts his abilities would be wise to offer such an explanation so that there is no way for him to be proved wrong and his reputation ruined.

Yosef, on the other hand, told Pharaoh that his dream referred to the immediate beginning of seven years of plenty, which would be immediately followed by seven years of famine. Logically, Pharaoh should believe Yosef’s explanation, for he would be foolish to make up an interpretation which would promptly be proven incorrect.

Still, even when the years of plenty began, Pharaoh didn’t necessarily need to be convinced of Yosef’s wisdom. He could have insisted on waiting for seven years to see whether the famine would indeed begin as Yosef had predicted, or even for 14 years to see if the famine would end as he had forecasted. Hashem recognized the danger of such a potential reaction, as in that case Pharaoh wouldn’t trust Yosef sufficiently to appoint him to oversee the project from the very beginning.

As a result, the Medrash says that Hashem caused Pharaoh to forget part of his dream, specifically the part in which Yosef’s recommendation to appoint a wise man to oversee the storage project was actually spelled out explicitly! Upon hearing that Yosef not only offered a plausible and verifiable interpretation of his dreams but also refreshed his memory about a portion of the dream which even he had forgotten, Pharaoh exclaimed (41:39) Vayomer Paroh el Yosef acharei hodia Elokim es kol zos ein navon v’chachom kamocha, which can be understood to mean that after Hashem has informed you of all of this, including the part of the dream that even I forgot, surely there is nobody wiser than you in the kingdom!


Vayomer Yehuda el Yisroel aviv shil’cha ha’naar iti v’nakuma v’neilcha v’nich’yeh v’lo namus gam anachnu gam atah gam tapeinu (43:8)

There is a Talmudic principle (Bava Metzia 62a) known as chayecha kodmin –  saving one’s own life comes before all others. However, in the unthinkable situation in which one may additionally save only one’s father or one’s own son, as occurred all too often during the Holocaust, who has precedence?

Yehuda requests that Yaakov send Binyomin down to Egypt with him and entrust him with ensuring Binyomin’s safe return, so that there will be food to eat so that we (the brothers), you (our father), and our children shouldn’t die of starvation. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky derives a fascinating inference from the wording of this verse. He maintains that the Torah is prioritizing for us who has precedence when it comes to saving lives. The Holy Torah, which contains the answer to every question, answers this one by mentioning the saving of their father Yaakov before that of their own children to teach us that one’s father has priority.


Vayomer chalila li mei’asos zos ha’ish asher nimtza hagavia b’yado hu yih’yeh li aved v’atem alu l’shalom el avichem (44:17)

Rav Zev Leff questions how Parshas Mikeitz could end at this dramatic point in the action. Yaakov had been terrified to send Binyomin down to Egypt as Yosef had demanded, as he represented the last vestige of his beloved wife Rochel. As the food supply began to be depleted, Yaakov had no alternative but to rely on Yehuda’s personal guarantee to insure Binyomin’s safe return. Although the brothers had been confused and scared by Yosef’s accusations that they were spies and then his invitation for them to be his personal guests at a banquet, they thought that the coast was clear when they were finally able to set out on their return journey, armed with Binyomin, Shimon, and a new supply of food.

Much to their chagrin, shortly after setting out on their trip, they were accosted and Binyomin was “found” to have stolen Yosef’s divining goblet, which would presumably require the brothers to leave him in Egypt and return empty-handed to their heart-broken father. Could there be a worse place in the plot line to interrupt with “to be continued” than at this climactic moment?

Rav Leff answers that this was done intentionally in order to teach us that no matter how bad things may seem at any point in our lives, we must always remember that there is another chapter waiting to be turned just around the corner. However long it may take us to ultimately realize it, there will finally come a time when we will be able to retroactively understand the Divine Providence and the good which were germinating in what seemed to be life’s darkest moments.

Rav Meir Shapiro beautifully points out that Dovid Hamelech writes (Tehillim 116:13) kos yeshuos esa uv’shem Hashem ekra – the cup of salvation I will raise and I will call out in the name of Hashem – all in one verse, for when good things occur, we have no problem seeing the good and praising Hashem immediately. When it comes to the bad, however, Dovid writes in the same chapter (116:3-4) tzara v’yagon emtza uv’shem Hashem ekra – I will find troubles and suffering, and I will call out in the name of Hashem – spread out over two different verses.

Regardless of whether I will raise the cup of salvations or whether I will find troubles and suffering, I will ultimately call out in Hashem’s name just the same. The only difference is that when things seem difficult, we sometimes have to patiently wait until the next verse, or in our case even the next parsha, until we are able to recognize the good that will ultimately make us call to Hashem to express our praise and gratitude. Even if we aren’t there yet and aren’t able to see the good that currently lies hidden, the knowledge that it is there and we will eventually understand it should give us the strength to persevere with faith and trust until it is revealed.


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     According to one of Rashi’s explanations (42:1), in spite of the famine, Yaakov and his sons still had food remaining. The Ramban writes (12:10) that Avrohom committed a great sin when he left the land of Canaan to descend to Egypt during a famine instead of remaining in Canaan and trusting in Hashem. If they still had enough to eat, why did Yaakov send the brothers to Egypt to buy more food, which would also seem to represent a lack of trust and faith in Hashem?

2)     When Yosef’s brothers arrived in Egypt to purchase grain, he immediately recognized them, but they were unable to recognize him (42:8). Rashi explains that when he was separated from them at the age of 17, they already had beards but he did not, and as a result, the change in his appearance misled all of the brothers. Even if he now had a beard, why didn’t they recognize his face, which Rashi (37:2) writes resembled that of their father Yaakov, or his voice? (Tzafnas Paneiach, Yishm’ru Daas, Mishmeres Ariel, Derech Sicha, Even Meira)

3)     When Lavan accused Yaakov of stealing his idols, Yaakov – not realizing that his beloved wife Rochel had indeed taken them – declared his innocence and said (31:32) that the person with whom Lavan will find his idols won’t live. Even though Lavan didn’t find his idols, Rashi writes that this curse still caused Rochel to die prematurely, as a curse on condition still takes effect even if the condition is unfulfilled. When the brothers told Menashe (44:9) that the one in whose sack he finds the goblet will die, why didn’t Binyomin die young from this curse, especially in light of the fact that the condition was fulfilled when Menashe found the goblet in Binyomin’s sack? (Moshav Z’keinim quoted in Taam V’Daas, Yad Av, Tiv HaTorah)

4)     At the end of each parsha, a line customarily appears in the Chumash stating how many total verses are in that parsha. Why does the line printed at the end of Parshas Mikeitz give not only the total numbers of verses (146) but also the number of words (2025)? (Genuzos HaGra)


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