by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
The genius of Joseph was not so much in his interpretations of dreams. Clearly, he had a gift. But as he admits, the gift came from God. Interpreting dreams was just his visiting card. It got him through the door. But once in he had to make himself indispensable. You could say his story is that of the first consultant.
The butler and the baker in jail had dreams that revealed their own innocence or guilt. He had hoped the butler would get him out of jail right away. But God lets events run their own courses. When it comes to Pharaoh the Torah, as it often does, repeats stories in slightly different ways. Pharaoh has two dreams and the Torah tells them very simply and factually. Neither the wine men nor the magicians could not satisfy him with their interpretations. According to the Talmud, all dreams only make sense on the basis of interpretations. Notice that Pharaoh had wide men, rationalists, and magicians, non-rationalists. He was covering his bases.
Joseph notices how Pharaoh exaggerates. He realizes the others have failed to satisfy. He knew the obvious lines, seven sons, seven daughters, seven kingdoms, seven battles weren’t the answer. But having guessed or intuited the meaning, because of the connection to the river Nile and agriculture he takes the initiative and goes beyond simply explaining the years of plenty and famine. He has lived in Egypt long enough to have noticed the cycles of plenty and scarcity. And he knows that politicians only think short term to get re-elected or gain favor. He had to take a long-term view, risky as it was.
Joseph becomes the first consultant. He doesn’t just analyze, he prescribes. And it is this that catches Pharaoh’s attention and gains favor. He preaches self-control, on a grander scale than the self-control he exercised with Potiphar’s wife. Egypt would have to limit gorging on the years of plenty. They would have to set food aside for the lean years. This went against human nature. But self-control was at the core of Israelite morality.
In other words, Joseph does not rely entirely on God, on Divine interventions. We do not rely on miracles. He knows he must use his own initiative. And it worked.