Imrei Shefer - Parshas Mikeitz

Why does the Torah use the present tense “Pharaoh was dreaming”?

(41,1) “And it came to pass at the end of two years that Pharaoh was dreaming, and behold, he was standing by the river.”

On careful examination we notice a subtle but significant difference in the Torah which needs to be understood. Here by Pharaoh it says “Pharaoh was dreaming”, using the present, continuous tense, whereas by Yosef it says “Yosef dreamed", using the past tense. And we also find the same with Ya’akov.

But this fits with what Chazal taught in the gemora in Berachos 14a on the posuk in Proverbs 19:23 “…he will rest satisfied and not be visited by evil” - someone who satisfies himself with words of Torah and goes to sleep, will not be visited with bad tidings. From this we see that a person who serves Hashem, does not dream all the time, but rather he dreams only infrequently. But a wicked person dreams constantly of all types of nonsense.

Therefore, Ya’akov and Yosef who did not normally dream, when they did dream, it was truthful and prophetic. Therefore the Torah uses by them the expression “they dreamed”, to teach that it was a singular event. But Pharaoh even before now had many dreams, and so the Torah now relates that at the end of two years he was dreaming yet another dream about the cows. Such is the precision of the Torah.

Why regarding the bad part of Pharaoh’s dream did Yosef make a change in his wording.

(41,28) “It is this matter which I have spoken to Pharaoh; that which G-d is doing He has shown to Pharaoh.”

Why in the beginning when he was speaking about the good cows and the good ears of grain, did Yosef say “that which G-d is doing He has told to Pharaoh”, but regarding the bad part of the dream he said “He has shown to Pharaoh”.

If there is good news to be told to somebody, everybody rushes to be the first one to tell him. But no person of intelligence wants to relate bad news, G-d forbid. And if, nevertheless, he has to tell his friend bad news because it is vital that he know it, he tells him by way of a hint, so that he understands the matter by himself. If this is correct behaviour for flesh and blood, all the more so is this the way of Hashem, who is completely merciful. Also, it says in Eichah 3:38 “From the mouth of the Most High does not go forth evil”, and Chazal taught that "Hashem does not put His name together with evil".

Therefore, regarding the good cows which were good tidings - that there would be years of plenty, Yosef said “that which G-d is doing He has told to Pharaoh”, as if it G-d Himself was saying it. But regarding the bad tidings - that there would be years of famine, Yosef said “He has shown to Pharaoh”, so that Pharaoh would see it by himself, but was not told explicitly.

Why did Yosef advise Pharaoh to appoint officials to collect the grain?

(41,34) “Let Pharaoh do this, and appoint officials over the land…”

The Midrash comments on the posuk in Mishlei 11:26 “He who keeps back grain will be cursed by the nation“ - this is Pharaoh who stored away the grain during the years of famine, and the people cursed him. “But a blessing will be bestowed on the head of one who sells grain” - this is Yosef, who fed the world during the years of famine. What point is the Midrash making?

Yosef, who advised Pharaoh to appoint an understanding and wise man over the land of Egypt, knew that Pharaoh would choose him. Therefore, since Yosef knew that the one who did this job would be cursed by all the people, as would be natural when they see the grain being horded and the price of grain being raised, he very wisely advised at the outset, before he was involved in the matter, that the understanding man who Pharaoh chooses should not be the same person who gathers the grain into the storehouses. Nor should the wise man be Pharaoh’s emissary, acting by Pharaoh’s command. Rather the gathering of the grain should done through Pharaoh himself, by his appointing officials to collect all the grain. But the selling of the grain afterwards during the years of famine should be through the wise, understanding man. That he should sell all the grain and gather to the treasury the proceeds from the sale, and thus receive blessings in the thousands.

This is what Yosef said “Let Pharaoh do this, to appoint officials” - he himself should do this, and consequently, as the Midrash comments, he was the one who received the curses of the people. Whereas Yosef, as the one completely in charge of selling the grain, received all the blessings.

Why did Yosef deserve to rise to greatness?

(41,40) “You shall be in charge of my household, and through your command all my people shall be nourished; only with the throne will I be greater than you.”

It is brought in the Midrash (concerning the many items and honours that Pharaoh gave to Yosef): Said Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel: From Yosef (from his merits) were these things given to him - because of his mouth that never kissed in sin he merited that “through your mouth you will nourish all my people”, etc. The Yefas Toar and the Nezer Hakodesh asked what point Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is making. See there what they answer, but we can also explain as follows:

The commentaries write that according to strict justice a Tzaddik does not deserve any reward for his good deeds. As it says in Iyov 41:3 “who preceded me that I should pay?” - is there anyone who does the mitzvah of mezuzah before I give him a house? Rather, the only reason a Tzaddik receives any reward is because of Hashem’s kindness. For this reason it seems that we never find the name El-him written in connection with the giving of any reward, because this name signifies strict justice, but rather the four-letter name of Hashem, which signifies mercy. For example, it writes in Ruth 2:12 “May Hashem reward your deeds”, and in Tehillim 62:13 “To you Hashem is kindness, for you pay a man according to his deeds”.

Therefore, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel had a difficulty, because here only the name El-him is mentioned. Yosef said, “that which El-him is doing he has shown to Pharaoh”, which implies that showing the dream to Pharaoh was from the side of Justice. Similarly, Pharaoh said “Since El-him has informed you of all this, there is no one as understanding and wise as you”, which implies that informing Yosef of the interpretation of the dream was also from the side of Justice.

But this is difficult, because the main reason that Hashem showed the dreams to Pharaoh was in order that Yosef would rise to greatness through them. And all the more so was His informing Yosef of their interpretation in order to raise up Yosef. As the Midrash explained at the beginning of the parsha, Yosef delayed two more years in prison in order that Pharaoh would have his dream through which Yosef would rise to greatness. Thus, although Yosef was a complete Tzaddik, from the side of Justice he was not due any reward, only from the side of Kindness, and therefore the Torah should have written the four-letter name of Hashem here concerning Pharaoh being shown the dreams, and all the more so concerning Yosef being informed of the interpretation, and not the name El-him.

However, the sefer Parshas Haderochim writes on the posuk “may Hashem reward your deeds”, that only someone who is commanded to do a mitzvah does not deserve any reward, but someone who voluntarily does a good deed, does deserve reward. This same sefer discusses at length the status of Avrohom and his descendants before the giving of the Torah - did they have the status of Jews or non-Jews, and if they were considered as Jews, was that only where this results in a stringency (for example, that they would be forbidden to eat non-Kosher food as a stringency because maybe they are considered Jews), or even where this results in a leniency, in which case it would mean that they would have to keep all the mitzvos of the Torah.

Accordingly, we can say that since Yosef kept the whole Torah, and he was considered like someone who is commanded to do all the mitzvos according to the opinion that the Jews before the giving of the Torah were no longer considered to be non-Jews even where this resulted in a leniency, as the Parshas Derochim writes, he would not have deserved any reward. However, in the matter of his dealings with the wife of Potiphar, he suffered greatly because of his righteous behaviour in areas that he was not commanded, as will be explained.

It is brought in the Midrash that Potiphar’s wife afflicted Yosef in many ways. She said to him (if you don’t accede to my request to sleep with me) “I will cause you to remain bent over”, and he replied “Hashem straightens the bent”. “I will blind your eyes”, he replied “Hashem restores sight to the blind”. The Yefas Toar writes here that since it was within her power to kill him, and all the more so she could cut off or destroy one of his limbs, it was permissible for him to transgress rather than be killed, since we hold that even though for illicit relations one should rather die than transgress, for relations with a non-Jewess in private the Halachah is one should transgress rather than die.

Now, there is a dispute between the Rambam and the Tur in the case where one is not required to give one’s life, whether one is allowed to be stringent and give up his life rather than transgress. We must say that Yosef was of the opinion that one is allowed, as is the opinion of many Rabbis who decided this Halachah, and therefore Yosef in his response to Potiphar’s wife’s entreaties and threats went beyond what he was commanded to do, and therefore deserved reward, and for this reason the name El-him is used.

This is the intent of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel: From Yosef (from his merits) were these things given to him - because of his mouth that never kissed in sin etc., - Yosef refrained from these transgressions even though he was not commanded to do so, and so the mitzvah was completely his and he deserved reward for it. Thus, it was appropriate that the Torah should use the name El-him when discussing the dreams through which he rose to greatness, receiving gifts and honours from Pharaoh.

With this we can explain another Midrash, which comments on the posuk in Mishlei 14:23 “In every travail there will be gain” - from the distress which he suffered at the hands of his mistress, he gained the marriage of her daughter. “But a word of the lips is only for loss” - because he said to the cupbearer “remember me, and mention me to Pharaoh”, two more years were added to his stay in prison. The commentaries have already discussed the connection between these two matters, but according to what we have said above, we can explain it as follows:

The Yefas Toar asked why Yosef was punished for asking the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh, because surely it is fitting for a person to make a natural effort to gain his goal, as it says “and I will bless you in all that you do”, which implies we should first do something ourselves and then Hashem will bless our efforts. But it seems to me that we can make a distinction, because the reason why is it proper that a person make an effort and not rely on a miracle is like we said above, that even if the person is a complete Tzaddik he does not deserve any reward from the side of Justice, only from the side of Kindness. If so, how can he rely on a miracle, which he does not deserve from the side of Justice? Hashem may make a miracle for him out of kindness, but he cannot rely on this. But if a person has to his credit a mitzvah in which he was not commanded, and therefore deserves reward from the side of Justice, then he can rely on a miracle, and will not need to make any effort himself.

This is all the more so according to what I have written elsewhere, that the saying of Chazal that there is no reward for a mitzvah in this world is only true in the case of someone who did only what he was commanded to do - since he does not deserve a reward, the reward he does get is because Hashem chooses to give it to him, and He also chooses not to give it in this world. But someone who voluntarily does a good deed, since he now deserves a reward, and Hashem does not hold back the reward of any creature, certainly He will pay him in this world. If so, this person can rely on a miracle, and Hashem will not hold back his reward which he deserves.

This is what the Midrash means - in every travail there will be gain, for all the hardship which he voluntarily suffered at the hands of his mistress, he gained the marriage with her daughter, and received his reward in this world, immediately, because he deserved his reward from the side of Justice. But if so, that he had to his credit voluntary mitzvos, he should not have made any effort to gain his release, but rather he should have relied on a miracle because Hashem would certainly help him. Therefore “the word of the lips is only for loss” - for that which he said to the cupbearer he was punished.

Why were the brothers of Yosef afraid to buy grain from Egypt?

(42,1) “And Ya’akov saw that there was grain being sold in Egypt; and Ya’akov said to his sons: why are you afraid? And he said: Behold, I have heard that there is grain being sold in Egypt. Go down there and buy for us from there, so that we will live and not die.”

(The last word in the first posuk - תתראו - is translated several different ways. The Rav here is following the translation of Yonasan ben Uziel).

Now, Egypt was full of witchcraft, as is well known. When Moshe Rabbeinu turned his staff into a snake, and the sorcerers of Egypt did the same with their charms, the Midrash states that Pharaoh said to Moshe and Aaron “You are bringing in straw to a place which is all straw?”. We see from this that Pharaoh thought that everything that Moshe was doing was merely trickery - it was so commonplace that it would never have occurred to him that it was anything else. This is the basis for understanding what Ya’akov said to his sons, as follows.

Why was it necessary for the brothers of Yosef to go down to Egypt themselves in order to purchase grain when they had plenty of servants whom they could have sent instead. It was because they were concerned that since Egypt is full of sorcery maybe the Egyptians would give to their servants dirt, and deceive them using sorcery to make it appear like grain.

But in the first chapter of the gemora in Chullin 7a, R. Chanina said that he was not afraid of sorcery, because it is written in Devarim 4:35 “There is no one besides Him”. We explained the meaning of this gemora above in parshas Vayishlach, that only someone whose life is supervised by an angel has to be concerned about sorcery. This fits very well with what Chazal taught: “Why is sorcery called כישוף? Because it is an abbreviation for the phrase which means that it (sorcery) contends with the Heavenly Academy. (This requires explanation: Hashem created the world that matters should be conducted either by Hashem Himself directly, or through intermediaries, subordinates. Roughly speaking, the Heavenly Academy is the name given to the decision-making body of Hashem’s subordinates. Hashem also created a power called sorcery, a power from the side of evil, which can oppose that which has been decided by this academy. For example, even though it had not been decided that a certain person should die right now, sorcery could nevertheless cause that person’s death. This is obviously a very deep topic, and this explanation is very simplistic.) But somebody who has the power of the Torah, his life is supervised by Hashem Himself, and so has nothing to fear from sorcery. This is what R, Chanina meant when he said “There is none besides him” - for him there was no one but Hashem running his life, since he had the power of his Torah learning.

Now, Ya’akov and his sons also had the power of the Torah, and therefore Ya’akov asked his sons “Why are you afraid?” - why are you afraid to send emissaries to purchase grain lest the Egyptians deceive you with sorcery? You have a solution to this problem - “go down there (yourselves), and buy for us from there”. He specifically said “buy for us from there”, pre-empting his sons who might say: How can we keep going in and out of Egypt, it is too great a burden for us. Therefore, Ya’akov advised them to stay in Egypt till the end of the famine, and send from there grain for their families.

This then is the explanation of our posukim: “Why are you afraid” of the sorcery of the Egyptians? “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there” yourselves, and you have the power of the Torah, so they cannot thwart you with sorcery. And dwell there, “and buy for us from there” - send to us from there, “so that we will live and not die”.

What did Yosef recognise about his brothers?

(42,8) “And Yosef recognised his brothers, but they did not recognise him.”

It seems to me that the explanation of this posuk is that in the previous posuk Yosef only asked them a single question “Where do you come from?”. They however replied to him two things - “From the land of Canaan, to buy food”. Granted if had asked them both where they came from and why they came, then it would have been correct to answer both points. But since he had asked them only from whence they came, they should have answered only that they came from the land of Canaan, and not more than that.

But with this they revealed what was in their hearts. Because it is natural for a person who is afraid that he will be supected of something to provide information before he is questioned about it, in order to remove himself from suspicion. Therefore, when a person comes to be judged before the court, the judges examine very carefully his words, and if he says something which is unnecessary, it will be clear that he has something to hide.

Here also, behold, Chazal taught in the Midrash on the posuk “Yosef’s ten brothers went down to buy grain” - that they were nine for their brother and one to buy grain. That is, nine of them went to seek Yosef, perhaps they will find him, and one of them went to buy the grain. Thus, their main reason for going down to Egypt was because Yosef had been taken there. Rashi explained similarly in a later posuk, when Yosef said “this is what I said, that you are spies”. And so, since they were afraid of being suspected of this, they preceded to answer that they had come to buy grain, even though he had not asked them about this, so that Yosef would not suspect them of what was in their hearts.

However, on the contrary, because they answered more than what they had been asked, Yosef recognised their great love for him, and that their main intention in coming to Egypt was only for his sake. Therefore our posuk says “Yosef recognised his brothers” - he already recognised in them that they were his brothers and that they loved him, but “they did not (yet) recognise him” - his love for them.

How did Yosef know that he was supposed to cause his brothers distress?

(42,9) “And Yosef remembered the dreams which he dreamed about them, and he said to them: You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land.”

What does this posuk mean, that because Yosef remembered the dreams which he dreamed he said “you are spies”? Also, why does it say “which he dreamed about them”? It should have said simply "which he dreamed".

But to explain this we first need to understand how Yosef knew that he should cause his brothers so much distress. Because surely they were great tzaddikim, and so why was he not concerned that he was sinning by doing this? But behold, Yosef realised from his dream that Hashem wanted him to distress them, because in the two dreams that he dreamed, he saw only that his brothers were bowing down to him, and nothing more.

Now, if Hashem's intention was to inform Yosef in a dream of the good tidings that he will be king, why did he only show him that his father and brothers will bow down to him, instead of showing him something bigger and less specific - that the whole world will bow down to him. If that had been the case it would have been clear that the intention was only to inform him of the good tidings that he will be king.

But since this was not the case, perforce the intention was the opposite - not to inform him of good tidings, but to inform his brothers of bad tidings, that they will be forced to bow down to him, and therefore Yosef was shown specifically what was bad for them, that they will bow down to him. If so, Yosef saw that Hashem wanted to bring them distress for a reason known only to Him, and therefore Yosef understood that also he should cause them distress.

And now the posuk is very clear and precise: "And Yosef remembered the dreams which he had dreamed about them" - that he had dreamed specifically about them, and so the dreams were not for him but only for their sake, that they will suffer distress. If so, he had permission from Heaven to cause them distress and therefore he said to them "you are spies".

Why only now did the brothers realise that they had sinned against Yosef?

(42,21) “And they said to one another: Indeed we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us. And Reuven answered them saying: Did I not tell you, saying "do not sin against the lad", but you did not listen.”

There is something very strange here: behold, initially when Yosef wanted to put all of them in prison, they did not admit that they were guilty. But now, when he required only one of them to be bound and imprisoned, and the rest of them could go on their way, they said that they were guilty. Remarkable!

But we can explain that they paid attention to the fact that initially when Yosef said to them to send only one of them back home, he did not say that they should be bound, but rather he only “gathered them to the prison for three days”. But afterwards, when he sent away all of them except one that he wanted to hold back, he said “one of your brothers will be bound in prison”.

Now, it did not occur to them at all that they were guilty because of the actual sale of Yosef, because it was obvious in their eyes that since he had falsely related bad things about them to their father, it was permitted for them to do to him what they saw as fitting. Therefore, initially when they saw that they had all been arrested they knew that it was not because of a sin, but just a pretext of this ruler.

But when they saw that Yosef said that one of them would be bound in prison, and he wanted to bind him before their eyes which caused them all much distress, seeing the distress of their brother, then they realised that this was happening because of their sin. That is, they said that they were not punishable for the sale of Yosef, because this had been legitimate since he had sinned against them. However, they realised that since there are three things which characterise the offspring of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya’akov - that they are merciful, bashful and doers of kind deeds, therefore they said that their main sin was that they had seen the distress of their brother when he entreated them, and they did not have mercy. They did listen to him to go beyond the letter of the law. Therefore they were being punished measure for measure - just like they had seen the distress of Yosef and had not had mercy upon him, so too they were being punished by having to see the distress of Shimon their brother who was bound before their eyes.

Thus they said: “Indeed we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. Therefore this trouble” - this trouble of Shimon specifically, “has come upon us”. However, Reuven answered them: Do not think that only for this you are being punished, because you did not have mercy upon him, but that the actual sale and your wish to kill him is not considered a sin. I do not agree that this is true. “Did I not say to you: Do not sin against the lad” - not to sin against the lad himself? It is not just because you had no mercy that you are being punished, but rather “also his blood is being demanded”. That is, for your wanting to kill him and for your selling him, you are being punished, measure for measure, so that you are seeing now also the distress of Shimon.

This is what the brothers said later when they found the money “What is that that G-d has done to us?”. Granted one of us was imprisoned because we saw the distress of Yosef, and so we were forced to see the distress of Shimon. But what is this that G-d has done to us? Because finding the money is not a measure for measure punishment, because the sale itself was legitimate.

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