Parashat MiKeitz begins with the well-known narrative describing Par’oh’s dreams and Yosef’s subsequent interpretation of them. Immediately, several intriguing questions arise on different aspects of the story. One question, directed at the very first Pasuk of the Parashah, is why Par’oh, in his first dream, is standing over the Nile River, which the Torah calls the “Ye’or” (BeReishit 41:1). Of what significance is this river to him and the Egyptians? Rav Shamshon Refa’el Hirsch suggests that Par’oh’s standing by the river represents the idea that the flow of the Nile will determine the agricultural fate for Egypt for the upcoming years. In a similar vein, Rashi interprets the Pasuk as highlighting the Nile’s vital importance to the Egyptians and their agricultural economy. These explanations are quite interesting to note, as both convey an idea that stands in stark contrast to Yosef’s righteousness and belief in Hashem. Whereas Par’oh and the Egyptians attribute Egypt’s economic success to the ebb and flow of an inanimate object—the Nile—Yosef comes before Par’oh with a strong, developed Emunah that everything comes from Hashem. In fact, when Par’oh tells Yosef that he has heard of Yosef’s ability to interpret dreams, Yosef responds, “Elokim Ya’aneh Et Shelom Par’oh,” “God will answer concerning Par’oh’s well-being” (41:16). Yosef wishes to transform the Egyptians’ false belief system into Yir’at Shamayim, fear of Heaven, and he begins to do so by spreading acknowledgment of Hashem and His control over everything. As Jews living in Galut, we are charged with the same duty as Yosef. We must do everything we can to spread recognition of Hashem and hopefully infuse our surroundings with Kedushah, holiness.
Another very important lesson can be found in Rashi’s commentary (41:2 s.v. Yefot Mar’eh). Rashi explains there that the beautiful cows are described as “Yefot Mar’eh,” “beautiful-looking,” for the following reason. “Yefot Mar’eh”, homiletically interpreted as “looking favorably [upon one another],” alludes to the idea that during the years of plenty, people will look favorably at each other, instead of being greedy and selfish. We see from here that it is very important to give from oneself to others and to always give everybody the benefit of the doubt, even when he is unsure of the other person’s intentions. In fact, there is a principle in the Gemara (Pesachim 50b et al.) that says that even though at first one may not be able to learn Torah purely for its own sake, eventually, through growing love for Torah and dedication to it, one will come to learn it for its own sake. This supports the idea that even though one might be skeptical of someone’s actions initially, over time he or she will most likely realize that people truly want to be good. May we merit to reach this level soon!