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Torah Sparks

December 8, 2007 – 28 Kislev 5768

Annual: Genesis Genesis 41:1-44:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 41:1-41:52 (Etz Hayim, p. 250; Hertz p. 155)
Maftir: Numbers 7:30 – 7:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 808; Hertz p. 598)
Haftarah: Zehariah 2:14 – 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 1270; Hertz p. 987)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows and seven thin ears of grain consuming seven healthy ears. He is disturbed by his dreams, but none of his magicians can interpret them. The chief cupbearer now remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh sends for Joseph, who tells him that his dreams are God’s way of informing Pharaoh about seven years of abundance, to be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then advises Pharaoh to appoint someone to oversee the collection and storage of surplus food in the prosperous years so that it will be available for the years of scarcity. Pharaoh sees the wisdom of the plan and appoints Joseph to the position, giving him many honors and a wife who bears him two sons. After the seven years of plenty have passed, the famine begins in Egypt and surrounding lands. Jacob sends 10 of his sons – all but Benjamin – to Egypt to buy food. When the brothers come before the viceroy of Egypt – Joseph – he recognizes them but they do not recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and when they protest, Joseph agrees to hold Shimon hostage until they return with Benjamin to prove their innocence. When the brothers tell Jacob what has happened, he refuses to let Benjamin go to Egypt. However, the famine continues and Jacob reluctantly allows Benjamin to accompany his brothers to Egypt to buy food. Joseph has the brothers brought to his house, where he serves them a feast. However, Joseph tells his steward to hide his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. After the brothers depart for home, Joseph sends his men after them to apprehend the “thief.” Joseph tells the brothers he will keep the one who stole the goblet as his slave and the others are free to return home.

1. Such A Pretty Cow

After two years’ time, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, handsome and sturdy, and they grazed in the reed grass. (Beresheit 41:1-2)

  1. Handsome [elsewhere, beautiful of appearance], this is a sign of the days of plenty when creatures appear pleasing to each other, for the eye of one creature is not envious of the other. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. They grazed in the reed grass [ba-ahu]. What is ba-ahu? Ba-ahava – in brotherhood, for when the good years come creatures become brothers one to another, and when the bad years come, creatures become strangers to their fellows; then they would look at each other and turn their faces away. (Tanhuma Miketz, siman 3)
  3. The torments of poverty deprive a man of his good sense and of the capacity to acknowledge his Creator. (Talmud Eruvin 41b)
  4. Ben Zoma taught: Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion. (Avot 4:1)
  5. Esau said, “I have much”... But Jacob said, “I have everything.” (33:9-11) The Hafetz Hayim commented that with these two remarks we see the difference in world view between Jacob and Esau. Esau said he had a lot. Even though he had a large amount, he would still want more, for whoever has a hundred wants two hundred. Jacob, however, said “I have everything.” I am not missing anything at all. Esau constantly wanted more while Jacob felt great satisfaction in what he had. (Hafetz Hayim al HaTorah [Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen, 1835-1933, Poland])

Sparks for Discussion

Rashi and the Tanhuma suggest that people who have enough material goods to meet their needs regard others as brothers. The implication is that enmity, envy, and hatred are caused by poverty. Do you believe that envy, hatred, crime, and violence are caused by poverty? Do you believe that most people who have enough to meet their needs and then some treat others as brothers? Or is the Hafetz Hayim right – people who have a great deal will always want more? Where do wealth and poverty fit into your understanding of how people treat each other?

2. If You're Not Part of the Solution...

Accordingly [elsewhere, Now], let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom and set him over the land of Egypt. (Beresheit 41:33)

  1. It is asked: as Pharaoh only asked Joseph to interpret his dream, why did Joseph give him advice? However, this was an integral part of the interpretation of the dream, for one can ask: Why was it necessary for God to have Pharaoh dream of the seven lean years? Why not only show him the seven years of plenty at this time and later give him a dream of the seven lean years? From this, Joseph deduced that this was being shown to Pharaoh now so that he could prepare for the years of famine. That is what is meant by Now – the fact that you saw the vision of the seven lean years now is so that Pharaoh will be able to find a man of discernment and wisdom to prepare for the lean years. (Ma’ayanah shel Torah [Rabbi Alexander Zusia Friedman, 1897-1943, Poland])
  2. None could interpret them (41:8) No one provided Pharaoh with a satisfying interpretation. He wished them to detect in his dream a message regarding the future of his people, and which it would profit him to know beforehand. He believed that God had not vouchsafed him the dreams for nothing, particularly as they came to him on his birthday. Otherwise, what prevented them from offering any interpretation they could think up? According to this, we can appreciate why Joseph offered advice to the king. The latter did not want to know the future but to know what was in store so that he could take preventive steps. (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto, 1800-1865, Italy)
  3. Accordingly, let Pharaoh find... Since God informed you that there will be a famine to enable you to save your people, and He [even] showed you the [years of] plenty, informing you how you may save [them], it is proper that you do so and not sin against Him. (Rabbi Ovadiah ben Jacob Sforno, 1475-1550, Italy)

Sparks for Discussion

Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and identified the problem facing Egypt, he also offered a solution. Why do you think Joseph’s interpretation and advice rang true to Pharaoh, so that he acted immediately and raised Joseph to the position of viceroy? What do you think would have happened if Joseph had only described the problem but had not offered a solution?

Human institutions (and relationships) are, of course, imperfect, so it’s not hard to identify problems – the synagogue is losing membership, there are too few volunteers, we need to do more fundraising. However, too often people get stuck in rehashing the problems and never move on to solutions. How can we encourage people to come forward with creative solutions or even partial solutions? How do we discourage the attitude of “that’s not the way we do things around here?” How can we get more people to be part of the solution?

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