Parshat HaShavuah Mikeitz
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
This week's Torah portion - Parshat Hashavua Mikeitz.
Yoseph, a righteous person, dreamed about working in the field with his brothers, building sheaves. Pharaoh, a wicked man, had a dream which involved no effort on his part at all.
Pharaoh’s dream is the very beginning of the story of Egyptian exile. The dream predicted a famine which eventually caused Yaakov and his family to settle in Egypt where, a generation later they were enslaved.
In times of exile, the Jewish people are forced to withstand the fluctuation between two contradictory modes of life: love of God at the time of prayer, and then total immersion into the physical world during one’s business and private affairs the rest of the day. Chasidic teachings compare this situation to a dream because in a dream the opposite often happen, contradictory phenomena can exercise simultaneously.
Rabbi Nachman tells us that the term shenatayim yamim [literally, “two years of days’] refers specifically to slander. [Slander misleads the person who talks evil of others into thinking of things not as they actually were: hence, “days are years,” what actually happened is viewed through the lens of imagination rather than reality].
As punishment for the sin of the spies who slandered the Holy Land, the Jews were forced to spend a year in the desert for every day of the spy’s mission [Numbers 14:34]. More broadly, because the slanderer is unsure of the facts or of people’s motivations for their actions, slander is associated with the power of unbridled imagination.
In his dream, Pharaoh was “standing on the river.” This river is the Nile, which is also called the Pishon River (Rashi on Genesis 2:11). Pishon alludes to the phrase Pi Shoneh Halakhot, a mouth that speaks Torah Law. True Torah teachings bring blessing [VaYikra 26], whereas imaginary Torah teachings result in famine [for they create a delusory, “false Heaven” that cannot rain].
“Pharaoh” refers to a person who is not steeped in or steadfast in Torah law, yet who seeks to create novel Torah teachings based on his imagination. These imaginary Torah thoughts are harmful to the world, for they prevent God’s blessing from descending. Thus, in Pharaoh’s dream, the seven fast cows of blessing are swallowed up by the seven scrawny cows of imaginary teachings.
In summation, the verse “Two years later, Pharaoh was dreaming. Behold! He was standing on the river” may be interpreted to mean “Blessings are withheld due to the power of deluded imagination, which leads a person to create unfounded TORAH insights.”
These false teachings are rectified by Yoseph, the tsaddik, who elevates a person beyond his imagination, so that with a rectified [the opposition of slander], one can find good even in bad situations.
Pharaoh dreamt about seven fat cows that were swallowed up by seven scrawny cows. Pharaoh represents one who has great wealth yet always craves more, as if he is always hungry. His name, Pharaoh resembles PeriRaon [repayment]. Pharaoh always made payments, whether he is buying material goods for his comfort or paying off his debts. Yoseph, the tsaddik, advises him to “tax’ the bounty at twenty percent. In other words, Yoseph, advises the wealthy to “tax their wealth” by giving to charity, an act that will protect their wealth.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller brings the verse in Psalms 105:16 “And He proclaimed a famine upon the earth.” The miraculous nature of this famine is demonstrated by the number seven, and also by the fact that it was preceded by seven years of exceptional abundance in Egypt. “And the famine was in the lands” (41:54). This international calamity, whereby countless men perished, was performed solely for the sake of the sons of Israel. Because of a tiny tribe of 70 souls, Hashem sent a famine upon the land of Egypt and all the surrounding nations, thereby causing this family to go down to Egypt where they were being prepared for the Giving of the Torah. This famine and the preceding seven years of plenty were the occasion for Pharaoh’s dream, which caused Yosef to be elevated to supreme power (41:44) in order to rule over the sons of Israel to prepare them for their great future.
The purpose of this especially disastrous famine was to force the house of Yaakov to come to Egypt, where they would sojourn for 71 years under the absolute power of the righteous Yoseph and then they would be afflicted by bondage to the Egyptians, in order to be prepared for the supreme function of the nation: the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
By his total power Yoseph trained the people of Egypt in good behavior, thus preparing Egypt as the land where Israel would sojourn for 210 years. This was necessary both in order to make Israel’s sojourn less burdensome, and also in order that the Egyptian influence should not be too harmful for the Israelites’ character and way of life.
Another purpose in this decree was to bestow absolute power which Yoseph, would utilize to control his family’s behavior. When they would begin to increase, he was able to prevent them from spreading out of Goshen [46:34] to mingle with the Egyptians, and he prevented the Israelites from surrendering their language and their national ways, and in general, he enforced justice and righteousness among his own people, and he prepared them to accept the Torah.
There was another purpose in the bestowal of such great power upon Yoseph, and this purpose was for the furtherance of Yoseph’s perfection. The Perfection of the righteous individual is to the Creator an important justification for the existence of the world, and He manipulates the history of nations for the furtherance of even a single great man’s virtue.
Verse 41:38 wrote that “Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can there be another man like this who has the spirit of Hashem in him?”
The Likutei Moharan explains that because Yoseph guarded his covenant, he attained a spirit of Hashem.
Verse 41:39 then tells us that Pharaoh said to Yoseph, “Since Hashem has informed you about all this, there is no one as perceptive and wise as you.”
The reason Yoseph was so perceptive and wise was because he guarded his covenant. Yoseph achieved a pure mind. He attained Torah revelations and the levels associated with the sefirot of Binah (Understanding) and Chokhman (Wisdom).
Breslov Oral tradition tells over the story of how once someone asked Reb Moshe Breslover [a leading student of Reb Noson] about the tsaddik emess [true righteous person] that Rebbe Nachman always speaks about in his lessons. ‘Who can Rebbe Nachman be referring to?” the man wondered. Reb Moshe told the man that even Pharaoh was wiser than he. Pharaoh understood that because Yoseph spoke of a wise man to oversee the production of food in Egypt, he was wise enough to be that person. If Rebbe Nachman always spoke of the true tzaddik [righteous person], then he must have that special quality to make him a truly righteous person. We learn from the actions of Yoseph that when a person works on himself with totally devotion and attachment to HASHEM, they literally can change the world.