This week’s Torah portion is Miketz, the continuing dramatic saga of the life of Joseph. This portion begins with the phrase “at the end of two years.” Now Joseph has already been in prison for ten years for a crime he did not commit. Two years before we pick up the story the chief cupbearer to Pharaoh had promised to put in a good word so that Joseph could get out of prison but two years have passed and nothing has been done, Joseph is still in prison.
The sages tell us in midrash Tanchumah that the reason for the phrase is that two years was a set time God had. In Job 28:3 it says that “He sets an end to darkness and every limit He investigates.” The sages of Israel take this to mean that God has a set time for everything and needed Joseph to remain in prison for two years more.
Sometimes we we might not understand why we are going through a certain struggle or tragedy or difficult time but God know the limits or boundaries of our troubles. He knows what he is doing. So when Pharaoh’s cupbearer needed someone to interpret Pharaoh’s dream he knew where to look. Joseph was right were he left him.
Have you ever had a dream that really impacted you but on waking you couldn’t remember it? The reason for the two year period, the sages say, is that Pharaoh had the same dream for two years, every night, but just couldn’t remember it. On this morning, however, he did remember it. So it was time, time for Joseph to be taken out of prison. Time for him to begin to take his leadership role. When he is brought to Pharaoh he can interpret the dream. The bible says that all of Pharaoh’s wise men, magicians and sorcerers were not able to interpret the dream.
The Rabbis say that Pharaoh’s wise men said that the seven fat cows were daughters he would have, the 7 skinny cows daughters that would die, the seven stalks of grain with full heads the provinces he would conquer and the seven sickly stalks those that would rise against him. Pharaoh knew that this was not the correct interpretation. Joseph told him that there would be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine and Pharaoh knew this was correct.
This leads me to a little rabbit trail about dream interpretation. When Nebuchadnezzar needed someone to interpret his dream, his name was spelled with a single “tav” in Hebrew. But when discussing the dream, the bible spells it with two. The Rabbis say that this is because of the two things going on, that he couldn’t remember and didn’t know the meaning.
So in the story, Joseph is elevated to high position and responsibility, a wonderful story of redemption. But there is something else important about Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh begins by saying “I was standing beside the Nile river.” In Hebrew it actually says standing “over” the river. The sages say when the unrighteous have dreams they see themselves as standing over their gods. The people of ancient Egypt regarded the river as one of the chief gods, a source of life. Contrast that with Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, God is at the top. So the wicked dream of themselves above their gods and the righteous see their God above them.
About the river, Pharaoh sees himself as a bystander, a passive observer of the river flowing by. Contrast this with Joseph’s earlier dream, he is in the field picking up sheaves of grain, working. The midrash says that to Pharaoh life is river that passes you by but to Joseph life is a field to labor in.
I pray that this is what you gain from this week’s teaching, that life is a field to work in. Remember that the new testament says that God has ordained good works for us to do. Mitzvot, the good we do to repair the world, tikkun olam – the repair. Is your life a field to work in or are you simply letting it pass you by. As we look to the end of this Hannukah season I pray that you will rededicate yourself; after all that is what the word Hannukah means: dedication.
If you have been like Pharaoh standing by the Nile, letting life pass you by, I pray that from now on you look at life as a field to work in and that you get to the work God has ordained for you to do. And if right now you are going through a difficult situation, remember Job 28 where it tells us that He has set an end to the darkness.
If you would like to study with me please apply to the Kosher Pastor program on this site. Through the end of the year we are offering a special price for the bundle of all seven courses. If you are of African descent please go to af.shuvu.tv and join the Uri program.
I pray God’s richest blessings on you and may He speak to you in your dreams.