Parshas Mikeitz: Famine and Thankfulness

Last week, I wrote in my dvar Torah about the Talmudic stance on dream interpretation. Parshas Vayeishev, last week’s Parsha, contains a remarkable instance of dream interpretation, and so does Mikeitz, which we read this week. But rather than writing about interpretations and prophesies, this week I want to remind us all of an important lesson about thankfulness which is hidden in Parshas Mikeitz.

Yosef is still imprisoned at the start of this week’s Parsha, having been forgotten by the cupbearer who promised to help him. This is because he relied too heavily on the cupbearer, as opposed to G-d, and as such, was punished by his creator with another 3 years in jail. He did not have to serve the entire sentence, though, due to G-d’s great leniency, and as such, finds himself released early on account of his dream interpretation skills. The Parsha begins with Pharaoh dreaming two very troubling dreams. We read a description of his first dream; ”And behold, there came up out of the river seven cows, handsome and fat of flesh; and they fed in the reed grass. Then, behold, seven other cows came up after them out of the River, ugly and lean of flesh, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the River. The ugly and lean cows ate up the seven handsome and fat cows”.

This troubling and confusing dream is followed almost immediately by another, similar dream, which troubles Pharoah so much that he seeks out an interpretation to the sequence; ”Behold, seven ears of grain came up on one stalk, plump and good. And behold, seven ears, thin and blasted by the east wind, sprang up after them. The seven thin ears devoured the seven plump and full ears”. As Pharaoh tries to find an explanation, the chief cupbearer suddenly remembers Yosef and the latter is summoned to the Pharaoh.Yosef interprets the dream as foretelling Mitzrayim’s agricultural future. He correctly advises Pharaoh that there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine, and Pharaoh is so impressed that he appoints Yosef over the land of Mitzrayim.

The Parsha then continues to relate Yosef’s future, the birth of his sons, and the enlightening incident of his reunion with his brothers. But in his dream interpretation there is a message of thankfulness which we would all do well to remember. It isn’t immediately obvious. In this sense, the message is literal, but as a metaphor, it works to remind us all of what G-d has done for us, and how, unfortunately, it is easy to forget the miracles and wonders He has performed. Yosef says to Pharaoh, in the interpretation of his dreams, ”Then there shall arise…seven years of famine, and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt”. This isn’t meant simply to say that the famine will be terrible. It means to say that the extent of the famine will literally cause the inhabitants of Mitzrayim to forget that there ever were seven plentiful years. Before dismissing this as outlandish, one should think to their own life, ,and how they felt in times which were less than perfect.

More often than not, in a terrible time, one forgets the wonders of the past. They are consumed by the moment. In the wake of a loss, sorrow is at the forefront of one’s mind, and good memories of years shared are temporarily erased. When one has lost his job, he is unlikely to feel thankful for having held a job for ten years- instead he feels anger, sorrow, or fear for the future. And this is all perfectly understandable. It is human nature. But envy is also human nature. So is greed. Does that mean that we should not make an effort to fight these negative traits? Of course not! Just as we attempt to overcome any personality shortcoming, we should also remember to practice thankfulness. Even if we currently can’t think of much to be thankful for, we need only remember what Hashem once blessed us with.

Yesterday, I telephoned a woman I used to daven with, and received the news that my beloved masphia from the days before I was Chassidishe had passed away. I was not shocked, accounting for his age, and had been preparing myself for this moment for a long time. As I shed a tear over the realisation that I would never see him again, I remembered this week’s Parsha. Specifically, I remembered the famine, and the fact that the Egyptians would forget the years of plenty. Did I want to be like that? Did I want to be that person? The connection struck me as amazing. I realised what he would’ve wanted, and what Hashem would want. And rather than wallowing in the sadness of the moment, I thanked Hashem. I thanked Hashem for giving me the oppurtunity to have met and known this person.

Very few have been given a gift as great as the one Hashem gave me.

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