Parashat Mikeitz

Friday, December 18, 2020 /3 Tevet, 5781
Parashat Mikeitz Genesis 41:1–44:17

Dear Friends,

Joseph, “the dreamer,” had a remarkable gift, his ability to interpret prophetic dreams. Although the Torah makes his interpretations look easy, the Rabbis demonstrate that interpretation is an art form, requiring skill, wisdom, and even righteousness.

Bereishit Rabbah 89:8 offers a story about a woman who asked a rabbi to interpret her disturbing dream in which her house split open. The rabbi replied that the dream meant she would soon give birth to a boy. A short while later, she returned with the same dream. Again, the rabbi told her that she would give birth to the boy. The third time the woman returned, the rabbi was away. His students interpreted the dream in her stead and told her that her husband would soon die. Immediately his life came to an end. When the rabbi returned, he accused his students of killing the husband. As the Talmud says, “A dream comes true according to how it is interpreted.” (BT Berachot 55b) When interpreting a dream, it is essential to know the correct interpretation, and even more important to know what to speak out loud.

It was a lesson Joseph was forced to learn at a young age. Although he knew that his childhood dreams of stars and sheaves bowing down to him meant that he would one day rule over his brothers, he saw the displeasure in the eyes of his father and brothers when he offered his interpretation. (Genesis 37:5-10) His words led to more pain and challenge than he could have imagined.

Now the Pharaoh himself was having troubling dreams. In one, seven sturdy cows emerged from the water, followed by seven gaunt cows, which ate the sturdy ones. In the second dream, seven healthy ears of grain grew on a single stalk, followed by seven ears of grain that were thin and scorched by the wind. The thin ears ate the full ones. These dreams were not overly complicated, so how could it have been that none of the diviners in all the land could solve the dreams? Surely some of them understood that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Perhaps they didn’t know that the words they used to interpret the dreams mattered as much as the interpretation itself.

A Pharaoh who threw a cupbearer in jail on a whim would likely not respond well to a diviner who told him that a famine would destroy his empire. However, Joseph understood that he needed to interpret the dreams in a way that Pharaoh could hear. He explained that Pharaoh could prepare for the famine by appointing a trusted advisor to oversee the storage of food during the years of plenty. This was a message Pharaoh could accept, and soon Joseph became Pharaoh’s trusted advisor.

Joseph learned that words have power. The way we frame our circumstances can change the way we experience them. The way in which we express ourselves to others can affect the way in which others hear us and respond.

This Shabbat, let us be inspired by Joseph to find the opportunities present in every situation, and to offer wisdom with kindness and understanding on our tongues.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail