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Why did Pharaoh accept Joseph's dream interpretations and not the others'?

Why did Pharaoh accept Joseph's dream interpretations and not the others'?


When Pharaoh had his two dreams (Genesis ch. 41), he wasn't short of interpretations and meanings. "Pharaoh sent and called all the necromancers of Egypt and all its sages, and related to them his dream, but no one interpreted them for Pharaoh." Meaning, not one of them offered an interpretation which satisfied Pharaoh.

But first, here are the dreams:

Dream 1:

From the Nile were coming up seven cows, of handsome appearance and robust flesh, and they pastured in the marshland. And behold, seven other cows were coming up after them from the Nile, of ugly appearance and lean of flesh, and they stood beside the cows which were on the Nile bank. And the cows of ugly appearance and lean of flesh devoured the seven cows that were of handsome appearance and healthy.

Dream 2:

Seven ears of grain were growing on one stalk, healthy and good. And behold, seven ears of grain, thin and beaten by the east wind, were growing up after them. And the thin ears of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears of grain.

All the advisors around gave their opinion. According to the Midrash, some said that the dreams were hinting that Pharaoh would have seven daughters born to him and these seven would die shortly thereafter. Others explained that he would conquer and then lose seven countries. However, Pharaoh was not satisfied until Joseph came along and offered his divinely inspired interpretation.

What was so unique in Joseph's interpretation that was lacking in the others'? Joseph answered a question that perplexed everyone. At one point in Pharaoh's dream he saw the seven skinny cows at the same time that he saw the fat ones. The same thing occurred in the second dream where he saw the skinny beaten ears together with the healthy ones. Whatever the seven cows or ears were to represent, no one seemed to figure out how there could be both the good side of the coin and the opposite at the same time.

Until Joseph came along.

Joseph offered Pharaoh his interpretation of the dreams: The seven fat cows and healthy ears represented seven years of plenty; the skinny cows and beaten ears represented seven years of extreme famine.

He then continued to give his advice—although he wasn't asked to do so—and in so doing he clarified everything: During the first set of seven years they should harvest and store as much grain as possible so that when the seven years of famine arrive the Egyptians will have what to eat.

By offering this advice, Joseph was actually answering the million dollar question: How was it possible to have the good and bad at the same time? During the first seven years the second set of seven years of famine was already in existence as they were preparing for it by collecting and storing all the surplus grain. When the famine finally arrived, although nothing grew from the earth, the first set of seven years was still at their side as they had all the food from that period stored away. Thus the seven skinny cows stood side by side with the seven fat cows.

Now, Pharaoh was satisfied.1

And I hope that you are satisfied with this explanation!

All the best,

Rabbi Shmuel Kogan,


Based on Likuttei Sichot vol. 15 p. 343 ff.

Rabbi Shmuel Kogan of Brooklyn, NY, is a responder for's Ask the Rabbi feature.
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Bill Lipton New York December 16, 2014

Dated from 1557-1447 BC, Joseph represented the previous dynastic power, but from the vantage point of being from outside Egypt. This would be the same as the place of Jews in recent history -- those who are learned and forced immigrants.
Pharaoh would have respected knowledge and intelligence -- or he would not have raised Joseph to a position of power.
The historic era is the dawn of the Egyptian New Kingdom 1550–1069 BC -- effectively the end of a dark age of ignorance in Egypt. It introduces the age of Amenhotep which eventually gave rise to a brief period of monotheism.
The story relates a logical transition to that new era, which, after 2000 years, became western monotheistic tradition.
Nomadic Shepherds understood feast and famine in terms of animals -- more accurately the effect on their animals. Joseph came from a people who made it a point to learn and place their learning into practice (a fact seen in the number of hygiene & medical laws which are now seen as scientific. Reply

Barry Forest, VA April 19, 2014

Rabbi, I have two questions:
1. Is there any indication in Jewish literature as to the possible age of this Pharoah? When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, he says God made him a "father" to Pharoah. I understand it could be simply an expression, but was curious about the age thing.
2. In reading this story, I noticed that Egyptians thought it wrong to eat with non Egyptians. I see a strong similarity to early Jewish teaching that it was wrong to eat with Gentiles. Is there some possible Egyptian influence in that early Jewish teaching and practice? Reply

Anonymous alex, egypt April 26, 2009

Sounds True. Sounds True. Reply

rm February 22, 2009

another explanation could be that it says that the king dreamt a dream and therefore paroh knew that his dream had to be for the people and not personal and yosef was the only dream that did. Reply

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