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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Bereshit - Miketz 101
Posted December, 2000
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Parashat


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Miketz begins at Bereshit (Genesis) Perek Mem-Aleph (Chapter 41) and continues through and includes Perek Mem-Daled (Chapter 44), pasuk yud-zayin (verse 18).  This Parashah takes us from the point where Yosef (Joseph) is about to interpret a dream for Paro (Pharaoh) to the point where Yosef's brothers have approached Egypt seeking food as the famine that Yosef predicted in the beginning of this Parsahah has now engulfed all of the region. 

Most common among various commentaries on this Parashah is the difference between what the Torah tells us that Paro dreamt and then how Paro describes what he dreamt.  Many of these go into great detail in terms of explanation.  However, as you will see, Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch takes a more common sense approach.  First, allow me to quote the beginning of the Parashah through Paro's telling of what his dreams. 

1. It happened at the end of two years to the day - Paro was dreaming that behold! -- he was standing over the River:

2. When behold! Out of the River there emerged seven cows, of beautiful appearance and robust flesh, and they were grazing in the marshland:

3. Then behold! -- Seven other cows emerged after them out of the River -- of ugly appearance and gaunt flesh; and they stood next to the cows on the bank of the River:

4. The cows of ugly appearance and gaunt flesh ate the seven cows of beautiful appearance and robust, and Paro awoke:

5. He fell asleep and dreamt a second time, and behold! seven ears of grain were sprouting on a single stalk -- healthy and good:

6. And behold! seven ears, thin, and scorched by the east wind, were growing after them: 

7. Then the seven thin ears swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears; Paro awoke and behold! -- it had been a dream:

8. And it was in the morning - His spirit was agitated, so he sent and summoned all the necromancers of Egypt and all its wise men; Paro related his dream to them, but none could interpret them for Paro: 

9. Then the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers spoke up before Paro, "My transgressions do I mention today:

10. Paro had become incensed at his servants and placed me in the ward of the house of the Chamberlain of the Butchers -- me and the Chamberlain of the Bakers:

11. We dreamt a dream on the same night, I and he; each of us according to the interpretation of his dream did we dream:

12. And there, with us, was a Hebrew youth, a slave of the Chamberlain of the Butchers; we related it to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us; he interpreted for each in accordance with his dream:

13. And it was that just as he interpreted for us so did it happen; me he restored to my post and him he hanged.":

14. So Paro sent and summoned Yosef, and they rushed him from the dungeon. He shaved and changed his clothes, and he came to Paro:

15. And Paro said to Yosef, "I dreamt a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I heard it said of you that you comprehend a dream to interpret it.":

16. Yosef answered Paro, saying, "That is beyond me; it is God Who will respond with Paro's welfare.":

17. Then Paro said to Yosef, "In my dream, behold! -- I was standing upon the bank of the River:

18. And behold, out of the River there emerged seven cows, of robust flesh and beautiful form, and they were grazing in the marshland:

19. Suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them -- scrawny and of very inferior form and of emaciated flesh; I have never seen inferiority like theirs in all the land of Egypt:

20. And the emaciated and inferior cows ate up the first seven healthy cows:

21. They came inside them, but it was not apparent that they had come inside them, for their appearance remained as inferior as at first. Then I awoke:

22. I then saw in my dream - Behold! -- seven ears of grain were sprouting on a single stalk -- full and good:

23. And suddenly! -- seven ears of grain, withered, thin and scorched by the east wind were growing after them: 

24. Then the thin ears of grain swallowed up the seven good ears; I said this to the necromancers, but no one could explain it to me.":

25. Yosef said to Paro, "The dream of Paro is a single one; what God is about to do, He has told to Paro:

26. The seven good cows are seven years, and the good ears are seven years; it is a single dream:

27. Now, the seven emaciated and bad cows who emerged after them -- they are seven years; as are the seven emaciated ears scorched by the east wind. There shall be seven years of famine:

28. It is this matter that I have spoken to Paro - What God is about to do He has shown to Paro:

29. Behold! -- seven years are coming -- a great abundance throughout all the land of Egypt:

30. Then seven years of famine will arise after them and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten; the famine will ravage the land: 

31. And the abundance will be unknown in the land in the face of the subsequent famine -- for it will be terribly severe:

32. As for the repetition of the dream to Paro -- two times -- it is because the matter stands ready before God, and God is hastening to accomplish it: 

From here, Paro makes Yosef the viceroy and gives him broad discretionary powers to ensure the survival of Mitzrayim (Egypt). 

Since the commentary focuses, as mentioned, on the difference between the description of the dreams and the presentation to Yosef, perhaps it makes a little sense to put these two things side-by-side: 

1. It happened at the end of two years to the day - Paro was dreaming that behold! -- he was standing over the River:

2. when behold! out of the River there emerged seven cows, of beautiful appearance and robust flesh, and they were grazing in the marshland:

3. Then behold! -- seven other cows emerged after them out of the River -- of ugly appearance and gaunt flesh; and they stood next to the cows on the bank of the River:

4. The cows of ugly appearance and gaunt flesh ate the seven cows of beautiful appearance and robust, and Paro awoke:

 

5. He fell asleep and dreamt a second time, and behold! seven ears of grain were sprouting on a single stalk -- healthy and good:

6. And behold! seven ears, thin, and scorched by the east wind, were growing after them:

7. Then the seven thin ears swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears; Paro awoke and behold! -- it had been a dream:

17. Then Paro said to Yosef, "In my dream, behold! -- I was standing upon the bank of the River:
 

18. And behold, out of the River there emerged seven cows, of robust flesh and beautiful form, and they were grazing in the marshland:

19. Suddenly, seven other cows emerged after them -- scrawny and of very inferior form and of emaciated flesh; I have never seen inferiority like theirs in all the land of Egypt:

20. And the emaciated and inferior cows ate up the first seven healthy cows:

21. They came inside them, but it was not apparent that they had come inside them, for their appearance remained as inferior as at first. Then I awoke:

22. I then saw in my dream - Behold! -- seven ears of grain were sprouting on a single stalk -- full and good:

23. And suddenly! -- seven ears of grain, withered, thin and scorched by the east wind were growing after them: 

24. Then the thin ears of grain swallowed up the seven good ears; I said this to the necromancers, but no one could explain it to me.":

Rav Hirsch notes the following: 

It is interesting to compare what Paro says he dreamt with the description above of what the dream actually was.  Every story that is told, with the exception of the Torah, has a subjective coloring, namely the impression the event made on the narrator.  When God wishes to tell somebody something in a dream He does not tease them by giving them a riddle to solve.  His speech even when He speaks in metaphors is always clear.  But Paro left out essential details.  In the dream itself Paro was standing thoughtfully at the river, and in this consideration of the importance and meaning of the Nile for Egypt lies the whole key to the dream.  But in his description he is standing and the river is mere scenery.  In the dream the cows were good to look at and healthy of flesh, both go together and describe them at once with reference to their value to men.  Paro says they were beautifully formed animals.  But no butcher looks at beauty of form, he leaves that to painters and artists and poets.  That is why the necromancers could have guessed at all sorts of possibilities, seven daughters, seven provinces, etc.  The same thing with the thin cows.  Above they were bad to look at giving prospect of very little meat.  Here they are needy, miserable, "badly formed," lacking in beauty and limited in flesh, all epithets which refer more to the nature of the animal itself than to its utility for human purposes.  He also omits to relate that the bad cows first placed themselves next to the good ones on the bank of the river, from which can be derived that they only consumed the good ones because there was no pasturage left in the meadow.  The impression made by the bad cows must have been a much stronger one than that made by the good ones.  Paro heaps up their bad qualities in order to describe sufficiently the impression they made on him, and stresses what the poor nature of the bad ears were to him by describing the good ones which preceded them in the masculine gender. 

So what is the point and what can be learned from all of this?  When a person exaggerates or minimizes, certainly the intention is not to be less than truthful.  Rather it is merely to editorialize a situation.  Problems arise, on the other hand, because the listener doesn't know that the reality is being edited.  Does this mean that modifying the telling of an event or communicational exchange is not wise?  Of course not.  There are times when it is in the best interest of ourselves and others to be discrete.  The point that I think Rav Hirsch is making, although he does not say so, is that we all should be aware of the fact that what the listener hears is only our rendition and there is every likelihood that the rendition will be taken at face value.  For this reason, it seems important to not only think about what we are saying when we speak to others, especially when we choose to modify the message, but to be aware that what we say, even though it is not our intention, may be taken quite literally.

________

Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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