Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parashat Mikeitz: Joseph's Sage Advice

On aspect of Joseph's first meeting with Pharaoh is perplexing to many Biblical commentators. Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret his dream. How did Joseph - a foreigner, a lowly slave, a prisoner - have the audacity to offer advice to the all-powerful Egyptian king how he should respond to the dream's message?

Also, why does it say that Joseph's words "found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants"? Was it not enough that Pharaoh approved? Why did his servants also need to approve of the plan?

The Astute Doctor

There was once a king whose son was deathly ill. The king summoned the best doctors in the country, but none succeeded in curing the prince. In desperation, the king announced that anyone with a drug or treatment that could heal his son should present himself at the palace to examine the prince.

A little-known doctor from a small town heard about the case. Originally, he did not dare present himself to the king. Who am I, he thought, to go before the king with all of his famous healers?

But when he heard the public announcement, the young doctor visited the palace and examined the dying prince.

He knew that a common herb had the healing properties needed to cure the prince. But he was afraid to present his medical solution. He realized that the great doctors, when they would heard of this simple plan to cure the prince, would ridicule him and reject it out of hand. They would say: we tried all sorts of rare drugs and obscure plants from distant lands and did not succeed; you think you will succeed in healing him with this weed?

Therefore the doctor announced, "I have found a way to heal the king's son. The medicine comes from a very common plant, but it requires great medical skill to know how to prepare it properly and apply the necessary dosage. The king must find a doctor with the necessary expertise to prepare and apply this medicine."

When the court physicians heard the young doctor's words, they were pleased. They all agreed that this was a good choice for a medicine - for each secretly hoped that the king would chose him to prepare the medicine, and he would be richly rewarded for saving the prince's life.

Pleasing the Advisers

Joseph realized that if just presented his simple interpretation of Pharaoh's dream, the king's advisers and wise men would ridicule him and reject his interpretation. All of the royal advisers, deeply versed in the art of interpreting dreams, had failed to give an appropriate explanation. They would turn to Joseph: "Who are you, a slave and a foreigner, who dares interpret the dreams of Pharaoh?"

Therefore, after interpreting the dream, Joseph suggested that a wise man be chosen to oversee the complex project of storing food during the years of plenty. In this way he forestalled the objections of Pharaoh's advisers, since each one hoped that he would be the one selected for that crucial position.

This is why the Torah stresses that Joseph's words "found favor in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants."

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 92-93)