The Faculty of Jewish Studies
The Office of the Campus Rabbi
Portion of Miketz, 1996
And Pharaoh Awoke; And He Slept, and Dreamt Again... (Gen. 41:4-5)
Awaking From a Dream Concerning The Nation's Fate
Dr. Aaron Gimani
Department of Talmud
Pharaoh's dreams revolve around the fate of his people. In his dream he stands by the river, which symbolizes his god, and dreams twice--first about seven fat cows and seven thin cows, and then about seven healthy ears of wheat and seven blasted ears. In each dream, the thin devours the fat. The Midrash recognizes a link between the two dreams, since it is plowing, which in those days was carried out by cows, that makes the harvest possible (Midrash Hagadol 41:2).
Initially Pharaoh dreams about cows. He is shocked by the appearance of the thin beasts, upon which he awakes (Gen. 41:4). But he is not so shaken that he cannot return to sleep. "And he slept, and dreamt again" (v. 5) -- this time about ears of wheat that swallow without a mouth. The impression left upon him by the "thin" wheat is so strong that he feels that the incident is actually taking place, whereupon the text asserts: "Pharaoh awoke, and behold it was a dream" (v. 7). When morning comes, "his spirit was agitated" (v. 8), the dream gives him no rest, and he seeks to have it interpreted.
According to the Midrash, the solution suggested by the Egyptian sages is the following: "The seven good cows are the seven daughters whom you will have. The seven poor cows mean that you will bury seven daughters. Similarly. they opined, The seven good ears represent seven countries that you will conquer. The seven thin ears stand for seven countries that will rebel against you" (Genesis Rabba 89:7). Each dream, that is to say, has received a separate and different interpretation. Pharaoh, however, remains uneasy until he hears the solution put forward by Joseph and acts to realize it. Why was Pharaoh uneasy with the view of his soothsayers? Because, says Rabbi David Adani, he believed the solution to be in the dream itself (Midrash Hagadol 41:15). And by contrast with the other interpreters, Joseph suggested a single explanation for both dreams together: "And Joseph said to Pharaoh, Pharaoh's dream is one and the same" (v. 25). This was itself Pharaoh's own secret conviction, as intimated in the text: "And Pharaoh related his dream to them" (v. 8), "dream" being singular and not plural. In other words, Pharaoh sensed that the two dreams were really one.
We ought to note that in his interpretation, Joseph rearranges the imagery of Pharaoh's dreams: "The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years ... and the seven thin and poor cows ... and the seven thin ears..." His perception itself suggests a solution which makes Pharaoh say to him, "There is no one as understanding and wise as you" (v. 39).
Awakening from a dream is also found in the case of Jacob, who, leaving his native land in a state of destitution, sees his people's fate in a dream. But in that instance God Himself is standing over him revealing him the future, and the dream reaches up to heaven itself. A divine promise is given both that Jacob's descendants will live in the land of Israel, and that "I will bring you back to this land" (Gen. 28:15). Jacob also sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder, which according to the Midrash symbolizes the history of the Jewish people. The angelic protectors of other countries climb higher and higher and deprive the Jewish people of their freedom, but in the end they must descend. In the case of the last such angelic protector, the Midrash says that Jacob saw the angel of Edom (the nation deriving from his hostile brother Esau) ascending, and was greatly concerned because he could not tell what height Edom might reach and feared that as a result his own descendants might fail to win their freedom. But God comforted him, "Fear not, My servant Jacob [Isa. 44:2], for even if he climbs up and sits beside Me I will cast him down from there" (Leviticus Rabba 29). Immediately after narrating the dream, Scripture says, "And Jacob awoke from his sleep." It is the consoling prophecy as to the future fate of his descendants that arouses him, and his awakening is not followed by a further sleep--something which would have suggested inaction on Jacob's part.
Waking up at the sight of a people's return to its land is also recorded of Jeremiah, the prophet of the Destruction, who witnessed his people's going into exile in Babylon. In a prophetic vision he saw the Matriarch Rachel weeping for her children, but he also saw their return. This is how he described his reaction: "Upon this I woke, and saw, and my sleep was sweet to me" (Jer. 31:25). God's love for His people is expressed in this vision through the return of His children to Zion and the flowering of their country: "Once again will I build you, and you shall be built up ... once again will you plant vineyards in the hills of Samaria..." (31:3-4). After he wakes up, sleep does not come again but rather an arousal to action, and this is how Jeremiah phrases God's constant love for Israel, using a word for "watch over" (shakad) that also means to be alert or wakeful: "So will I watch over them, to build and to plant, says the Lord" (31:27).
May the awakening of our people from the dream of redemption into the reality of a return home, to our ancient homeland, after two thousand years of exile, be symbolized by the way Jacob awakes and does not fall asleep again. May this awaking grow and increase, and be accompanied by an ongoing arousal and "watching over" by God that will continue into the next generation--in accordance with the Midrashic explanation of the phrase "And they pastured in the meadow" (Genesis 41:2). Ahu (meadow) is understood by the Midrash in terms of achava (brotherhood, comradeship). When abundance is showered upon us, we choose the path of brotherhood and love, peace and friendship."