Yosef’s Wisdom

V’atah yei’re Faroh ish navon v’chacham vi’shiseihu al Eretz Mitzrayim (Bereishis 41:33)

After Yosef was freed from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, he explained that they foretold seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine. Therefore, he recommended the appointment of a wise advisor to oversee the project of storing for the famine during the years of plenty. Upon hearing this proposal, Pharaoh responded that there was nobody more fitting for the role than Yosef himself, who demonstrated great insight by suggesting this idea.

As Pharaoh had only requested Yosef to interpret his dreams, why did he offer advice on how best to deal with the ramifications of his interpretation of the dreams, something which wasn’t at all requested of him? Further, why was Pharaoh not only not upset that Yosef had overstepped his mandate, but he became so impressed with him that he appointed him to oversee the new project?

The Vilna Gaon answers with a brilliant explanation. A person who is told that his dream refers to events in the distant future has no reason to believe the interpretation, as there is no way to test its accuracy. In fact, an interpreter who doubts his abilities would be wise to offer such an explanation so that there is no way for him to be proved wrong and his reputation ruined.

Yosef, on the other hand, told Pharaoh that his dream referred to the immediate onset of seven years of plenty, which would directly be followed by seven years of famine. Logically, Pharaoh should have believed Yosef’s explanation, for he would be foolish to make up an interpretation which would promptly be proven incorrect.

Still, even when the years of plenty began, Pharaoh didn’t necessarily have to be convinced of Yosef’s wisdom. He could have insisted on waiting for seven years to see whether the famine would begin as Yosef had predicted, or even for 14 years to see if the famine would end as he had forecasted. Hashem recognized the danger of such a potential reaction, as in that case Pharaoh wouldn’t trust Yosef sufficiently to appoint him to oversee the project from the very beginning.

As a result, the Midrash says that Hashem caused Pharaoh to forget part of his dream, specifically the part in which Yosef’s recommendation to appoint a wise man to oversee the storage project was actually spelled out explicitly. Upon hearing that Yosef not only offered a plausible and verifiable interpretation of his dream but also refreshed his memory about a portion of the dream which even he had forgotten, Pharaoh exclaimed (41:39), “Acharei hodi’a Elokim oscha es kol zos ein navon v’chacham kamocha,” which can be understood to mean that “After Hashem has informed you of all this — including the part of the dream which I myself forgot — surely there is nobody wiser than you in the entire kingdom.”

Parashah Q & A

Q: What is permissible on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but forbidden on Chanukah?

Q: In the song “Maoz Tzur,” we sing, regarding Haman, “Rov banav v’kinyanav al ha’eitz talisa — the majority of his sons and possessions You hung on the tree.” Since the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (49) teaches that Haman had 40 sons and only 10 of them were hung with him, in what way were the majority of his sons hanged?

Q: The Gemara in Shabbos (21b) teaches that the primary obligation on Chanukah is to light one flame on each night. The mehadrin — more preferable — level is to light one flame for each member of the household on each night, and the mehadrin min hamehadrin — most preferred — level is to light an additional flame on each successive night. Why did Chazal specifically enact a level of mehadrin min hamehadrin on Chanukah, a concept not found in conjunction with any other mitzvah?

A: The Rambam rules that if a person vows to fast on a specific day and it turns out to be Shabbos or Yom Tov, he is required to fast. However, if the day falls on Chanukah, he may not fast and must push off the fulfillment of his vow to a different day.

A: Tosafos writes (Shabbos 92a) that Haman’s sons were beheaded after they were killed, and only their bodies were hanged. Harav Aryeh Zev Gurewitz suggests that the song refers not to the majority of Haman’s sons being hanged, which isn’t true, but to the bodies of those who were.

A: The Chiddushei Harim notes that there were numerous ways that the Chashmona’im could have avoided the need for the miracle of the one-day supply of oil burning for eight days, such as making extremely thin wicks which would need less oil to burn. In other words, the entire miracle only occurred because they refused to seek out legal loopholes and insisted on performing the mitzvah in the ideal manner. To commemorate this, Chazal created multiple levels in the mitzvah of lighting the menorah so that we can also enhance our performance of the mitzvah. The Bnei Yissaschar explains that the menorah symbolizes the light of Torah. Therefore, Chazal enacted several levels of beautifying the mitzvah to teach that a person is never finished with his Torah study and can always improve it by reviewing it again and again. Harav Yosef Tzvi Salant answers that Chazal were concerned that people may transgress the prohibition against adding to the Torah’s mitzvos by thinking that Chanukah is Biblical in nature. Therefore, they took the unusual step of enacting different levels in this mitzvah, just as they decreed that some Jews should observe Purim on 14 Adar and some on 15 Adar, in order to remind us that it is only Rabbinical in nature.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.