Sunday, December 02, 2007

parshat miketz 2

Yosef appears an enigma. On the one hand he is so humble, he insists that all dream interpretations are a gift from G-d and that without Him, he is unable to accomplish anything. Yet he is not intimidated by Pharaoh, although he came from jail literally moments earlier. He not only interprets Pharaoh's dream for him, but also suggests policy strategies to run the country. It seems that his ego has completely carried him away. Even more amazingly, Pharaoh listens to his advice and appoints him “prime minister” to implement his plan.

With hindsight, the meaning of Pharaoh's dream is so obvious to us. What was so special about Yosef’s interpretation that made Pharaoh listen to him? Why could none of Pharaoh's wise men, astrologers and necromancers understand what the dreams referred to?

The text says that there was no one to interpret the dream “to Pharaoh”. In other words, the men of Pharaoh’s court could interpret the dreams, but not to Pharaoh’s satisfaction. They all explained the dream in terms of events affecting Pharaoh personally, for example that he would have children and bury them. But Pharaoh realised that he had received this dream as the representative of all of Egypt. This is what the Torah means when it says “Behold, it was a [complete] dream”. Therefore he wasn’t satisfied until Yosef interpreted the dreams as having repercussions over the entire known world.

From the fact that the dream was repeated, Yosef understood that the famine was imminent. G-d was giving Pharaoh advance warning in order to prepare for it. Therefore the interpretation involved Yosef telling Pharaoh how to act in response to the dream. Setting up storehouses of grain was part of the meaning of the dream.
Nevertheless, wasn’t Yosef intimidated, standing before Pharaoh, telling him how to run the country?

Despite conventional thinking, humility doesn’t involve false modesty. It means knowing exactly who we are, knowing our own strengths and weaknesses, and using them to serve G-d efficiently. Moshe is described in the Torah as the most humble of men, yet when the need arose he knew how to stand up against Korach and others. Not because he had an inflated sense of self worth, but because he knew that G-d had chosen him for a specific purpose, and that therefore he was best suited to that task.

So too Yosef. When he was brought before Pharaoh he understood why he had been sold into slavery and thrown into jail. He realised that G-d had placed him in this situation in order to provide sustenance for the world. For him to feign embarrassment or to seem unsure of himself would have defeated the purpose. Therefore he was able to stand up to Pharaoh without any feelings of intimidation.
When Yosef interpreted the butler’s dream in prison, he did not see interpretation completely as a Divine gift. Therefore he felt that he could ask for a favour in return, and asked that the butler remember him to Pharaoh. Because of this he was punished, and had to remain in jail. Now, when he stands before Pharaoh he sees that interpretations come entirely from G-d. It is no longer Yosef the individual speaking. He is acting as an agent to fulfil his part of the Divine plan.

Modesty and humility don’t mean belittling oneself; they entail knowing exactly who we are and how we can best utilise the opportunities that we are given. The story is told of Zusha, who always used to say “When I reach 120 and come before the heavenly court I am not concerned that they will ask me why I wasn’t Moshe. I can respond that I was never given his talents, upbringing or opportunities. Likewise I have an answer if they ask why I was not the Rambam, Yosef Karo or the Vilna Gaon. But when they ask me why I was not Zusha what will my defence be?”

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