Parashat Miketz opens with Joseph languishing in prison and ends with him being the Viceroy of Egypt. Joseph’s meteoric rise from prisoner to ruler, provides us with a number of important messages about mentorship and trusting your decisions.
Parshat Miketz Summary:
- The dreams of Pharaoh
- Joseph appointed viceroy
- The years of plenty
- The famine begins
- Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt
- Joseph arrests Shimon
- Benjamin accused of stealing
Parashat Miketz opens with Pharaoh experiencing two very strange dreams. In the first dream, he is standing by the Nile River and he sees 7 fat cows exit the water followed by 7 thin cows. The thin cows eat the fat cows but remain thin. In the second dream, Pharaoh sees a stalk of wheat rising from the Nile with 7 branches followed by 7 single gaunt sticks of wheat. Here again, the thin ones eat the fat ones and Pharaoh awakens, frightened by the image he has witnessed.
No one is able to offer a solution to the dreams until the chief butler comes forward and reveals a young Jewish dream interpreter, who predicted his own future. Joseph is plucked from the prison and interprets the dreams for Pharaoh that 7 years of plenty will be followed by 7 years of famine and Egypt needs to prepare for this event.
Joseph is appointed the new viceroy of Egypt. He woke up as a prisoner and goes to bed as the second most powerful man in Egypt.
There are a few comments that need to be made about Pharaoh. Generally, the Pharaohs receive negative press in the Torah, especially the later pharaohs. But this one is different. His dreams see him standing over the Nile, in his mind, he is the ruler of Egypt and the guardian of the river. If he fails then the Nile fails. If the Nile fails, then all of Egypt fails.
His dreams are a hint to the future. Pharaoh takes them seriously. He dismisses all attempts to interpret the dreams. But the strange visions haunt him. When the Chief Butler steps forward to mention to him that there is a dream interpreter.
However, he prefaces his recommendation by using negative terms to describe Joseph. A young kid, a Hebrew, a prisoner (Gen 41:12). Someone who you don’t need to waste your time to listen to. Rashi reads the comments as only negative and condescending. Pharaoh, however, calls for Joseph and is immediately impressed by what the young man says. Not only does Joseph interpret the dream, but he also provides solutions to solve the problem.
Pharaoh and his court are so impressed that they appoint Joseph as the viceroy in charge of protecting Egypt from the coming disaster. For Pharaoh, he has resolved his problems. He looks for the best person. He dismisses the call of the critics and appoints Joseph. This decision would have been very controversial on the evening news. A foreigner, a former prisoner appointed Viceroy. But being Pharaoh the voices of protest are silenced.
A Name Change
One of Pharaoh’s first acts is that he gives joseph a new name Tzafnat Paneach. This name is hard to translate. Rashi says that it means, “The one who interprets the mysteries. An obvious acknowledgment of Joseph’s abilities to interpret dreams.
The Netziv, (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin1816-1893) has a fantastic insight. He explains that Pharaoh knew, that this day would have been a shocking one for Joseph. For years, Joseph had been first enslaved and later imprisoned. The prisoner and slave do not lead. They have no experience in leadership nor of issuing instructions. True, Joseph had some experience in running the affairs of the house of Potifar and being given some opportunities in prison. But to be Viceroy, issuing instructions was something that he would not have done. The name change was פענח צפנת meaning hidden within you is the honour and strength to appear before leaders. Inside of you are all the skills you need to accomplish this task.
Pharaoh, not only recognized the wisdom of Joseph he also was able to motivate him to take on the new rule.
Lessons We Learn
Quite often we will be presented with a young person. Often they are rejected because of their lack of experience. Other times they will present an idea, theory or novel approach and we dismiss them because we say they are too young or they lack experience. They don’t present well and we dismiss them for lack of experience. Imagine what would have happened to Egypt had Pharaoh listened to the nay-sayers?
But there is another point. Pharaoh, after giving the job to Joseph made sure to provide him with the emotional support that he would need to succeed in the job. To succeed one needs to be surrounded by those who can assist you. At the same time, one needs to provide the support and training necessary for one to succeed.
Joseph succeeded because he had a boss who understood the challenges that he would face and provided him with the support that he needed, be it political, social or educational. For Joseph’s success was ultimately Pharaoh’s success to.