To prevent world culture from degenerating into vice and depravity, Yosef had to understand all the nuances and shades of world civilization.  Only then would he be able to improve the world and to structure it on moral principles. 


HaRav Shlomo Aviner, Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim.


  1. Pharaoh’s Dream
  2. The Dream’s Interpretation: Yosef – the Antithesis of Egypt
  3. Yosef – “Avrech”
  4. Yosef – Yehosef


  1. Pharaoh’s Dream

“After two years had elapsed, Pharaoh dreamt.”[368]  What is the psychological basis of dreams?  One psychological school holds that dreams are negative repressed desires that break out of the subconscious.[369]  When awake a person manages to suppress his murky desires into the subconscious, but when asleep the “censor” is also asleep and these shady desires surface.   As distinct from that psychological approach, our holy Rabbi, the Rambam, gives the Jewish view which is the exact opposite explanation (Moreh Nevuchim 2:37): during the day, when a person is busy with worldly affairs, he is flooded with all types of stimuli and confusions of life, which he encounters and which is forced to deal, and his true desires are pushed into a corner.  When nighttime descend, the activities subside and he is able to rest from his toil, his inner thoughts and exalted aspiration are then revealed.  He is free to think about this true thoughts, inner personality and his role in life.


Pharaoh had an economic dream: he dreamt about food.[370]  This was his primary preoccupation.  As the king, he was responsible for an economically viable state.  This was his major concern while awake and it thus surfaced in his dreams.  Everyone was dreaming about food and economic existence.  Yosef dreamt about sheaves of wheat,[371] the Chief Butler and the Chief Baker dreamt about wine and bread[372] and finally Pharaoh himself dreamt about human nourishment.[373]  Egypt was in dire economic straits.  The economic ministers, the Chief Butler and the Chief Baker had been imprisoned.  All this occurred a short time after Yosef had been deposed from his position as “director-general” of the Chief Butler’s household.  Since then, matters had been deteriorating.  The former economic staff had been dismissed and incarcerated, new ministers had been appointed but all to no avail.  Pharaoh was therefore very worried and his concern showed up in his dreams and even on awakening “in the morning his spirit was agitated.”[374]


  1. The Dream’s Interpretation – Yosef, the Antithesis of Egypt

Pharaoh was deeply perturbed, “So he sent and summoned all the necromancers of Egypt, and all its wise men.  Pharaoh related his dream to them but none could provide [a satisfactory] interpretation for Pharaoh.”[375]  “There were some who interpreted the dreams, but ‘not for Pharaoh,’ i.e. these words were unacceptable to him and he found no satisfaction in their interpretations.  Some said: you will have seven daughters but you will bury all seven.  [Others said:] you will conquer seven states but they will rebel against you.”[376]  Pharaoh did not accept these interpretations because he sensed that his dreams were not a private matter about daughters nor even a transient national matter of subduing other countries.  He felt that they were a portent of a fundamental revolution in the whole of Egyptian life.  But no such interpretation was forthcoming.  This is rather puzzling because Yosef’s explanation was so simple and logical.  It was well known that the Nile was the source of Egyptian livelihood and the sheaves and cows could easily be interpreted in this content.  Why didn’t the necromancers think of this possibility?


Our Sages hint that there were in fact magicians that knew the solution but they were afraid to present it because it involved a drastic revolution in Egyptian ideology.  It involved an upheaval in all the basic axioms, and therefore would be unpalatable to Egypt.  The Nile was the pivotal point of the Egyptian faith.  The Nile was flooding and ebbing according to the tides and watered Egypt on an exact periodic basis.  After learning the tide cycles, the Egyptians planned all their lives accordingly.  They learned to harness these regular natural states for their agricultural benefit.  Their lives then became dominated by these natural states.  Since the Nile was the source of their livelihood, it became their god.  They also had another god who was in control of good and evil and spiritual matters, but for them there was no connection between economic successes and good and evil.  The world of morality and the physical world were controlled by completely unrelated forces.


Then there was a dream about seven years of famine “that there would be no way to even know that there had once been a former abundance.”[377]  This terrified them.  What had happened to the regular flooding?  Where was nature – god?  The Egyptians were unable to interpret and draw the conclusion from the dream because it contradicted their whole ideology and faith.  They could not accept it.[378]  Within the realm of Egyptian concept, there was no solution to the dream.  Yosef therefore had to come from the outside.  Yosef was an “Ivri” meaning “of the other side,” i.e. beyond the Egyptian world of concepts.  He was a descendant of Avraham Avinu, about whom our Sages said, “that the whole world was on one side while he stood [out against them] on the other side.”[379]  So Yosef, with this different conceptual world, has to be the one to reveal to them that: “What G-d is about to do He has revealed to Pharaoh.”[380]  There is a Divine power beyond nature and in control of nature.  Nature is not an independent force.  The all-powerful, spiritual G-d, the G-d of good and evil is Hashem[381] is also the G-d of the forces of nature.[382]  There are not two separate worlds: a material one and a spiritual one.  There is one united world in which good and evil and material successes are inter-dependent; just as the Torah asserts in numerous places such as “If you heed my commandments…then I will provide the first and last rain of your Land at its proper time.”[383]  There is one G-d of the entire universe, and the world of nature and the moral world are united under His mastery.


When Pharaoh heard the interpretation, he underwent a spiritual transformation.  He recognized the existence of an Almighty G-d and said: “Can there be anyone else who has G-d’s spirit in him as this man does?…Since G-d has informed you about all this, there can be no one with as much insight and wisdom as you.”[384]  His new found faith in G-d led him to recognize Yosef’s superior talents and strengths and thus he in effect relinquished his kingship in favor of Yosef when he said: “You shall be in charge of my palace and my nation will obey your world implicitly”[385] (Egyptologists speak of an Egyptian “heretic-king” who believed in one god.[386]  They claim however that he learned our monotheism from him while in truth the opposite occurred as related here).


  1. Yosef – “Avrech”[387]

Pharaoh publicly installed Yosef as ruler of Egypt: “He had him [Yosef] ride in his second royal chariot and they proclaimed before him ‘Avrech’”![388]  What is the meaning of this title?  The Targum Onkelos interprets it as “father (i.e. counselor) to the king).”[389]  Yosef is the spiritual father, the source of the Divine ideals and culture of the king.  He is above the king.  Once the king is affiliated with and guided by holy principles, he can then set about organizing and arranging the practical aspects of existence virtuously and properly.  Rabbi Yehudah explained the word as a combination of two words “Av” meaning that he is a “father” of wisdom despite being only “Rach” – “tender” and “young” in age.  Older people generally have the advantage of wisdom and experience, but they lack the dynamic energy of youth.  With the youth, the situation is reversed.  There is a popular saying: “If only the elderly ‘could’ and the young ‘understood.’”  The ideal situation is when these two forces, wisdom and capability, are present in one person.  Yosef was a “young-elder”: as wise as an older person and full of youthful vigor.  This explanation is similar in certain respects to the first one.  The Midrash brings a third opinion:[390] “The son of Durmaskit said to him [Rabbi Yehudah]: How much longer will you pervert the meaning of the verses of the Torah?  The word ‘avrech’ can only be connected to the word ‘bircayim” (knees – meaning bending the knee before him in homage) for all came in and went out only by his permission, as it states, ‘And he set him over all the land of Egypt.’”[391]  The masses could not comprehend Yosef’s stature as explained by Rabbi Yehudah.  He was an incomprehensible, super-natural phenomenon to them, and they thus bent their knee and succumbed to him as if he was a Divine power (This is similar to what the Christians do when they ascribe Divine attributes to “that man,”[392] the son of a man named Yosef).  This interpretation is based on people’s attitude to Yosef, while the earlier explanations were descriptions of his essence.


  1. Yosef – Yehosef

Yosef’s appointment aroused a commotion in governmental circles.  “When Pharaoh said: ‘without your permission no man shall lift his hand or foot in the land of Egypt’[393] – Pharaoh’s astrologers protested: ‘Do you intend that a slave who was bought for twenty pieces of silver should rule over us!’  He answered them: ‘I can see royal characteristics in him.’  They answered: ‘If so, he must know all the seventy languages [of mankind].’  Gavriel (the angel) came and [tried] to teach him, but [Yosef] could not learn.  [Gavriel] added a letter from the name of The Holy One Blessed Be He to his name.  He then succeeded in learning them:[394] ‘He set it as a testimony in Yehosef[395] when he went out over the land of Egypt, saying, I heard a language unknown to me.’”[396]  Understanding a nation’s language means to understand its mentality.  To be able to save the non-Jews, one has to understand their makeup.  Yosef and the non-Jews have I common that they both are involved in fashioning and building the physical world.  To prevent world culture from degenerating into vice and depravity, Yosef had to understand all the nuances and shades of world civilization.  Only then would he be able to improve the world and to structure it on moral principles.  To fulfill this task, Yosef had to spiritually “upgraded” and Gavriel was sent for this purpose.  Gavriel is the quality of strength and power.[397]  Yosef needed the power to take infinite and lofty ideals and to implant them into the finite world down to the minutest details.  Justice as meted out by the courts, for example, involves the contraction and application of the ideal and absolute righteousness down to the pettiest dispute.  In order to acquire this talent of introducing the Divine illumination into the world and all its seventy nations he had to have an “H” added to his name, so he was called “Yehosef.”  The Gemara[398] quotes a verse from Yeshayahu[399] which it interprets to mean: “Hashem created the worlds with the letters ‘yud’ and ‘hey.’”  The World to Come was created with the letter “yud” while this world was created with the letter “hey.”  This is the name of G-d that is manifest in this world.  Yosef is in fact “Yeho-sof”[400] – meaning that he is able to make the name of G-d that appears in this world, reach its absolute and ultimate manifestation down to the smallest nooks and crannies and in every minute detail of existence.  He was not only “great,” possessing lofty holiness, but he was also “strong” in that he was able to make the Divine light appear in everything and everywhere.


Yehudah’s name, however, has all the four letters of Hashem’s name[401] with the addition of the letter “dalet” in the middle,[402] indicating the four points of the compass which represent this world.  Yehudah was in charge of improving the spiritual aspects of existence, which is in fact the specific task of the whole Jewish People.  Yosef was at the interface between us and the non-Jews and his task was therefore to base the practical world on Divine ideals and to introduce G-d’s name into the physical world.




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