In what is perhaps the greatest and the most radical transformation in
history, Yoseph is extracted from his dungeon-like jail cell where he
languished as an accused felon, denounced as a disloyal slave and a
back-stabbing ingrate and elevated into one of the most powerful leaders in
How did it all happen? It began one night when Pharaoh dreamt two
successive, strange dreams. In each, puny and undernourished organisms, in
one-dream bovines, in another ears on stalks, literally devoured well-fed
and succulent counterparts in their respective species. What intensified
the mystery, was that no apparent change occurred to either the cows or the
ears. They remained just as emaciated as they were at the beginning of the
Despite their presumed ability to ponder the unknown and interpret the
unexplainable mysteries of life, Pharaoh's sorcerers were dumfounded. It
took the prodding of Pharaoh's disgraced butler to haul Yoseph from prison
and present him before Pharaoh as the one man who was a true
dream-interpreter with the veracity of his predictions proven by the
butler's very presence.
And so Yoseph was brought in front of Pharaoh and with G-d's help, Yoseph
enlightened him, interpreting the succulent stalks and cows as representing
seven years of plenty, followed by seven ensuing years of drought, gloom
and famine which would consume the bounty. Pharaoh liked his explanations
and made Yoseph the viceroy saying, "Since G-d has informed you of all
this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in
charge of my palace; by your command shall all my people be sustained; only
by the throne shall I outrank you" (Genesis 41:39-40). In addition, he
followed Yoseph's ensuing plan of action, in preparation for the boom and
The Torah tells us that the predictions came true. It relates the story
through Egyptian eyes. It tells of their
reaction to plenty and to shortage. It tells how they stored the grain in
the years of plenty in preparation for the lean years.
But look at the way the tale is related: Contrast the description of the
good and the bad years. First the plenty: "The earth produced during the
seven years of abundance by the handfuls" (ibid v. 47). The Torah then
tells us how the Egyptians gathered grain and stored it in preparation for
the ensuing famine. Then it tells us how the good times came to a halt:
"The seven years of abundance that came to pass in the land of Egypt
ended." Then the bad news: "And the seven years of famine began approaching
just as Yoseph had said" (ibid v. 53-54).
Note it does not say the good years came "just as Yoseph said," Yoseph's
predictions are only associated with disaster. Why?
The late physicist, Albert Einstein delivered a discourse on his theory of
relativity at the prestigious Sorbonne.
After reviewing his theory and its ramifications on the physics theory in
particular and the future of civilization, he ended his speech, "If my
theory is proven correct, the French will say I am a citizen of the world
and the Germans will say I am a German. If I am wrong, the French will say
I am a German and the Germans will say I am a Jew."
Rabbi Reines, the Lida Rav, commented how even in the ancient story of
plenty and famine, the Torah relates it through the eyes of those who have
experienced it. When it came to the good years, well, they just came. When
the suffering began, however, it was "just as the Jew said."
The years of plenty came and went unassociated with the man who foretold
its arrival. However when the famine came the suffering and the misery
came exactly as the Hebrew slave had predicted. Funny isn't it, how only
the famine came just as the Jew predicted, but the years of plenty were
only associated by an accident of nature.
How often do we hear the news of criminal suspects described in the vaguest
terms, obscuring their ethnicity, skin color, or national origin? Yet when
it comes to a man who professes to observe the Torah, or even hails from a
lineage of those who did, we hear the word Jew associated with the
purported act. Though the philosophy of Judaism transcends any physical
characteristics, and yet for some odd reason it becomes so distinguishable
when associated with the specificity of bad news. Whether it is the fall
of the economy or the inclement weather, there will always, someone,
somewhere who will link it to the Jew. Somehow, the faith of the solitary
nation plays out in more than their prayers. But that day will pass, when
the light unto the nations illuminates their attitude and there will be
something more to bad news, than Jews.
Dedicated in memory of Irving Bunim, Reb Yitzchok Meir ben Reb Moshe- 4 Teves
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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