Happy is the Man Who Trusts in G-d
It is written, “It came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh was dreaming, and behold, he was standing by the river” (Bereshith 41:1).
A great deal of ink has been spilled on this episode in the Torah to explain the dreams of Pharaoh and the interpretation which Joseph gave to them. Yet in our time, when every Jew needs his faith and trust in G-d strengthened, in a time when the coming of Mashiach is so close, it is good to again reflect upon these events in light of the explanations given by our Sages in the Midrash, as well as to strengthen our faith and trust in G-d.
Pharaoh had a dream, and he awoke terrified and trembling. However he fell back to sleep and had another dream, different from the first but resembling it in a few ways. He was again awoken by his dream, but fell back into a deep sleep until the early morning. When he awoke, he remembered his dreams and “his spirit was troubled” (Bereshith 41:8). The strange dreams of that night robbed him of his peace of mind, leaving him unable to regain any sense of calm or composure. He consulted his wise men, princes, and advisers, as well as the seers and sorcerers of Egypt. Pharaoh, who was then the all-powerful ruler of the world, went to great lengths and exerted unimaginable effort in consulting the wise men of all the nations so they could interpret his dreams. Yet despite all these attempts, “none could interpret them for Pharaoh” (ibid.). All the wise men in the world were useless. Indeed, their interpretations and “insights” could not satisfy him, for they were unable to interpret his dream and calm his spirit. He even threatened them with death if they did not provide him with an interpretation, and yet no one was able to relieve Pharaoh of the anxiety that oppressed him. Suddenly, someone remembered that while he had been in prison, he met a young Hebrew man who interpreted his dream. He recalled that this young man had asked him to intercede on his behalf before Pharaoh. As soon as Pharaoh heard this, he had the young man summoned.
Imagine what would have happened if Pharaoh had released him from prison at another time, on any other day! Would it not have appeared ridiculous to his subjects? However that was not just any day, for that moment differed from all others. On that day, Pharaoh felt weighed down and oppressed. He would have even leaned on a broken reed, for he was ready to put his trust in a young Hebrew man in prison. Perhaps he would succeed where all of Pharaoh’s wise men had failed? Perhaps he would know how to interpret his dream? Without waiting any further, Joseph was released from prison and hastily brought to Pharaoh’s palace. In a single instant, this worthless Jewish slave became Egypt’s savior. Thus Joseph stood before Pharaoh, who described his dream to him: Cows by the riverside, some thin and others fat. He listened, understood his words, and held the long-awaited interpretation. With calmness and composure, Joseph explained the meaning of his two dreams and underlined that they were really one. Furthermore, at the end of this discussion, after he had finished interpreting these dreams, Joseph advised Pharaoh on what he should do during the years of famine and the years of abundance. He proposed a detailed economic strategy that was actually a national rescue plan. He told him what to do and how to do it! Curiously enough, Pharaoh did not object to this, nor did he oppose it, nor did he tell Joseph: “Who asked you for advice?” On the contrary, he carefully listened to his every word, took the necessary steps, and appointed Joseph as a royal minister. In fact he appointed him viceroy! Thus in seconds, this Hebrew slave – rushed out of prison only a few moments earlier – became the savior of Egypt!
The Midrash has much to say on Joseph’s wisdom, on account of which Pharaoh named him Tzafnat Paneach (“he who explains what is hidden”). In this incident, Joseph reacted by carefully and calmly weighing all the facts, thereby demonstrating a virtue not often seen.
Imagine yourself in the same situation: You have been, until just recently, a young Hebrew thrown into an Egyptian jail without any chance of release. Even the Egyptian in whom you had placed your hopes has not helped you, since it has been two years that he was released, and yet nothing has been done for you. Suddenly, the heavy gates of the dungeon open, and the next thing you know is that you are standing in the middle of the royal palace! Pharaoh asks you to interpret a dream that multitudes of wise men have been unable to understand. How can you remain calm under such circumstances? Is it even possible to think straight, to consider things in a logical and composed manner?
As for Joseph, not only was he composed, he also presented the long-awaited interpretation without any hesitation, with ease and clarity. Furthermore, he quickly realized the underlying implications and analyzed the economic dilemma facing Egypt. How can a person undergo such a drastic change without being disoriented and flustered?
It is Possible
There exists almost no virtue comparable to this ability to carefully and calmly weigh all the facts, an ability that Joseph clearly demonstrated. It is based on a unique principle: Trust in G-d. Someone who places his trust in G-d never feels pressured, never allows himself to be troubled, and knows that everything which happens to him has a deeper reason and objective. He knows that everything is part of a bigger plan, one that G-d wrote and which He is carrying out.
Joseph was able to reach a high level because his trust in G-d was complete. As our Sages say, “Happy is the man who has made Hashem his trust [Tehillim 40:5] alludes to Joseph; and has not turned to the arrogant or those who stray after falsehood [ibid.] – because he said to the chief butler, ‘If only you would think of me...and mention me’ [Bereshith 40:14], two years were added to his suffering” (Bereshith Rabba 89:3). The virtue that characterized Joseph was this thrust. Among all the ups and downs in his life, Joseph placed all his trust in G-d, beginning with his sale to the Ishmaelites, and continuing with his journey into Egypt and trial with Potiphar’s wife. He experienced everything as stages in the Divine plan, understanding that it was all part of G-d’s will. Nevertheless, he sinned while in prison, making the mistake of turning “to the arrogant or those who stray after falsehood,” meaning that he asked the chief butler to intervene on his behalf before Pharaoh. Because of this sin – and because G-d is extremely exacting with the righteous – Joseph had to spend two more years in prison. During that time, he reflected and repented of this sin, strengthening his trust in G-d and his faith. It was for this reason that he emerged from prison. Joseph was not stunned by the drastic change in his condition, and his trust in G-d was now solid. In fact darkness and light held the same meaning for him, and emerging from the darkness of the dungeon to enter the splendor of Pharaoh’s palace changed nothing. Joseph had faith in the Creator, and saw each event as an expression of G-d’s will. In that case, there was no reason to be disturbed by his experiences.
Such is the power of one who possesses faith and trust in G-d. He does not feel oppressed by the changes that occur in the world – not by earthquakes, not by stock crashes, not by losses or gains, not by illness, and not by war (G-d forbid). He looks at everything with wisdom, analyzing things in order to learn the lesson which they hold. He evaluates himself and rectifies what needs to be fixed, but always does everything calmly and with composure. That is the great lesson to draw from this aspect of Joseph’s story.