SALT - Wednesday, 27 Kislev 5780 - December 25, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in the beginning of Parashat Mikeitz that Pharaoh dreamt two dreams which Yosef correctly interpreted as foretelling the onset of seven years of prosperity which would be followed by seven years of drought, when food would be scarce.  As the Torah describes, Pharaoh first beheld the peculiar vision of seven emaciated cows devouring seven large cows, and then saw the even more peculiar spectacle of seven lean sheaves of grain devouring seven large, robust sheaves.
            In interpreting the dream to Pharaoh, Yosef emphasized that “chalom Pharaoh echad hu” – “Pharaoh’s dream is one.”  Meaning, the two visions foretold the exact same sequence of events – a period of material prosperity followed by a period of shortage.  They did not predict two separate events or series of events, but both made the same prediction.  The reason why this information was told to Pharaoh in two separate visions, Yosef explained, was to indicate that this sequence of events would definitely occur, and would be unfolding immediately, without any delay (41:32).
            Netziv, in his Ha’ameik Davar (41:32, 41:5; see also to 43:1), surprisingly asserts that in truth, there was another reason why God showed Pharaoh two separate visions.  According to Netziv, Yosef conveyed to Pharaoh only the information which he needed, but there was also additional information prophetically conveyed by way of the two different dreams.  Namely, the different visions indicated that the drought would manifest itself differently in different locations.  Later, the Torah tells of how people from other lands in the regions were forced to purchase provisions from Egypt, because only Egypt had stored grain before the onset of the famine, clearly indicating that the drought struck not only Egypt, but also the neighboring regions.  (This is as opposed to the surplus of the first seven years, which was experienced only in Egypt.)  However, Netziv claims that the drought was more severe in Egypt than in other areas, and thus the two different visions shown to Pharaoh represent the two different types of drought which struck the region.  Pharaoh was first shown a vision of emaciated cows, indicating that the drought in Egypt was so harsh that even animal fodder was unavailable.  In the second dream, however, Pharaoh saw seven lean sheaves of wheat – food normally fed to human beings, as opposed to animals.  This foresaw the famine as experienced in other areas, where food normally fed to animals was still available, and it was only standard human food rations which were lacking.  In the neighboring countries, according to Netziv, the poor were able to subsist during the drought years on the low-quality food to which they were accustomed, but wealthier inhabitants, who were accustomed to regular bread, were forced to purchase grain from Egypt.  In Egypt, however, the drought devastated the entirety of the country’s agriculture, and it was only through the storage of grain during the previous seven years that the country survived, and was even able to sell grain to neighboring peoples.
            According to Netziv, then, Pharaoh was shown two different dreams not only to indicate the certitude and imminence of the events they foretold, but also to foretell the different types of conditions that would be suffered by Egypt and by the other countries in the region.