Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parashat Mikeitz: Joseph's Sage Advice

On aspect of Joseph's first meeting with Pharaoh perplexed many of the Biblical commentators. Pharaoh only asked Joseph to interpret his dream. How did Joseph - a foreign slave and prisoner - have the audacity to offer advice how the Egyptian king 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?

The Astute Doctor

There was once a king whose son was deathly ill. The king summoned the best doctors in the country, but none of them 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 come. Who am I, he thought to himself, to go before the king with all his famous healers? But when he heard the public announcement, the young doctor visited the palace and examined the ill prince.

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

Therefore the doctor announced: I have found a way to health the king's son. The medicine comes from a very common plant, but it requires great medical expertise to know how to prepare it properly and apply the necessary dosage. Therefore the king must find a suitable doctor who will know how 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 medicine, for each one secretly hoped that the king would chose him to prepare the medicine, and he would be richly rewarded for saving his son'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 chosen for that important 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)