Miketz: The challenge of hard times

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Miketz

The Torah portion Miketz continues the story of Yosef, the dreamer
and dream-interpreter, who was last seen (at the end of the previous
parsha) locked up in Pharoah’s prison. Word gets out that Yosef can
see the meaning of dreams, and so when Pharoah has a troubling dream
of bad times ahead, Yosef is called up out of jail for assistance.
The king dreams of good years followed by times of famine, first in
the image of cows, and then in the image of grain. His dream of the
healthy cows brings a great insight from our teacher Rashi:

First, Pharoah’s dream:

“It came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh was
dreaming, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. And behold, from
the Nile were coming up seven cows, of handsome appearance and
robust flesh, and they pastured in the marshland.” (Genesis 41:1-2)

Rashi bases his comment on an earlier midrash:

“of handsome appearance” – This was a symbol of the days of plenty,
when creatures appear handsome to one another, for no one envies his

Rashi points out that hard times- and presumably, the inqualities
that go with it- make people envy and resent each other, and this
causes negative feelings, blaming, gossip, criticism, and so on. In
other words, people appear “handsome” to one another when they are
feeling good about themselves! Conversely, when things aren’t going
so great, that’s when conflict breaks out, rooted in resentment,
which is itself rooted in envy.

So healthy cows notwithstanding, what can we do with this insight?
Perhaps the key is turning Rashi’s understanding around, and letting
go of our resentments so that we can appreciate and admire that
which is good in others. If we feel truly blessed, we’re not going
to be envious, and thus our challenge is to cultivate that sense of
gratitude and thanksgiving which is so fundamental to religious

wishing you all a healthy and happy Hannukah,


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