This week’s parsha follows the miraculous rise of Yosef from the time he is pulled from the pit of an Egyptian jail and transformed to the viceroy of Egypt. The story of this rise is fascinating. And all it took was a Pharaoh and a dream!
Pharaoh wakes up one morning quite disturbed. He just finished dreaming about seven skinny cows that devoured seven succulent ones. He goes back to sleep and a variation of the dream is repeated again featuring a theme of mismatched consumption. In the second dream, seven lean stalks devour seven full-bodied ones. This time Pharaoh cannot go back to bed.
In frenzy, Pharaoh summons his sorcerers, wise men and magicians. Each offers his interpretation. The Torah tells us that, “none of them interpreted the dreams for Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:8). The words “for Pharaoh” beg explanation. After all, to whom else were they trying to explain the dreams Nebuchadnezer? The Torah should have just said, “none of them were able to interpret the dreams.”
Rashi explains that the magic men did in fact interpret the dreams: however, “not for Pharaoh.” They may have had very creative interpretations, but none was fitting for Pharaoh. Pharaoh refused to buy into them as he felt that the interpretations were irrelevant. One magician claimed that the dreams symbolized seven daughters. Seven daughters would be born to Pharaoh, and seven would die. Another sorcerer claimed that the dreams represent both Pharaoh’s military prowess and failure. Pharaoh would capture seven countries and seven countries would revolt. However, Pharaoh rejected those solutions. Rashi says that they did not even enter his ears. None of those dreams was applicable to Pharaoh. But why? Is there nothing more important to Pharaoh than his own family? Is there nothing more relevant to Pharaoh than his military acumen and victories. Why did Pharaoh reject those interpretations out of hand as irrelevant?
Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky had just received wonderful news that his dear colleague and friend, Reb Moshe Feinstein, had come home from the hospital. Reb Yaakov went to call the venerable sage and personally extend his good wishes. Reb Yaakov, who never had an attendant make calls for him, went to the telephone and dialed. The line was busy. A few minutes later, he tried again. The line was still busy. In fact, Reb Yaakov called repeatedly during the course of the next hour, but Rabbi Feinstein’s line was constantly busy. “Perhaps,” thought Reb Yaakov, “many people are calling to wish him well.”
One of his grandchildren who was present during the frustrating scenario asked Reb Yaakov a simple question.
“I don’t understand,” he asked. “Aren’t there times that it is imperative that you speak to Reb Moshe? After all, you sit together on the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (The Council of Torah Sages). What would happen if there were a matter of national significance that required immediate attention? Shouldn’t Reb Moshe get a second telephone line?”
Reb Yaakov smiled. “Of course Reb Moshe has a special private line. And I, in fact, have the telephone number. But that line is to be used solely for matters relating to Klall Yisroel. I now wish to extend my good wishes to Reb Moshe on a personal level. And I can’t use his special line for that. So I will dial and wait until his published number becomes available.”
The Sifsei Chachomim explains the Rashi. Pharaoh understood that when he dreams, be it about cows or stalks, he dreams not on a personal vein. As ruler of an entire kingdom, his divine inspiration is not intended as a message regarding seven daughters or new military conquests. His dreams ring of messages for his entire nation.
The attitude of a leader is to understand that there are two telephones in his life. Even Pharaoh understood that the ring of a dream must focus on a larger picture the welfare of his people. For when it comes to the message on the Klall phone, a true leader understands that the message does not ring on his personal wall, but rather it rings with a message for the masses.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated by Ben and Beth Heller in memory of Sidney Turkel
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.