“…Pharaoh dreamed… And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled.” (Genesis 41:1-80)
A small consulting room. The Nile is visible through the window. A gentleman in white pleated skirt, khepresh headdress with cobra, and lapis collar lies on the couch as he recounts a dream. He punctuates the conversation with the swish of his flail, a jab of his scepter. Seated just behind his head in an early iteration of the Eames lounge chair and ottoman, a gentleman in a handsome multicolored robe.
Pharaoh : Okay. So I had this dream where I’m by the river and seven fat cows come out of the water onto the banks to feed on the reed grasses. But then, seven skinny cows come out and they don’t eat the grass; they eat the seven fat cows.
Joseph : Hm.
Pharaoh : Hm? That’s it? My Lord Chamberlain was right. You are a callow youth, a slave, and so far you don’t speak Egyptian that well.
Joseph : Perhaps the Lord Chamberlain is covering his tuchis. [Bases, if you prefer.] With one breath he makes the referral; with the next he suggests I may not be equal to the task. As it is written, “May the evil people be cursed, for [even] the good that they do is imperfect.” Rashi did not look kindly on the Lord Chamberlain trying to undermine my authority.
Pharaoh : What authority? You’re a slave.
Joseph : You’ll see.
Pharaoh : I’ll see what?
Joseph : Dreams are a ladder to the Divine. Go on.
Pharaoh : So I go back to sleep, and this time I dream about seven ears of corn on one stalk, nice big ears. And then seven shriveled little ears sprout, and they swallow the seven fat ears.
Joseph : Yes?
Pharaoh : That’s not enough? My spirit is troubled.
Joseph : But surely you have wise counselors who interpret your dreams.
Pharaoh : Shmegeggies. One dream they say is about seven daughters dying; the other is seven conquered provinces rebelling.
Joseph : And why do you not accept that?
Pharaoh : Because my spirit is still troubled. So, Mister Ladder-to-the-Divine, what’s your interpretation?
Joseph : Not mine. I’m just the dummy sitting on God’s knee. He pulls the strings.
Pharaoh : Humility. I like that. But I’d like an interpretation even more. Don’t try my patience.
Joseph : I believe you’re one of my patients. Little medical humor. The dream? First, it’s one dream, not two.
Pharaoh : I knew it! Shmegeggies!
Joseph : And it means there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.
Pharaoh : Famine? Oy. My spirit is still troubled.
Joseph : If I may make a suggestion. Store some of the grain when it’s plentiful; dispense it when it’s scarce.
Pharaoh : You’re a clever fellow, aren’t you?
Joseph : Please. It was a simple and, frankly, obvious solution.
Pharaoh : I know. But such a program will require a vast bureaucracy. And that bureaucracy will require an overseer.
Joseph : Your majesty flatters me.
Pharaoh : Don’t get ahead of the story, Joey. But we both know where you’re going with this. If each adviser imagines he’ll be the big cheese, no one tries to talk me out of your interpretation. In fact, they’ll encourage it. (As it is written, Ramban, commentary on 41:33)
Joseph : Well that’s certainly possible…
Pharaoh : So not only have you disarmed the opposition, you’ve turned them into advocates for your proposal.
Joseph : As it is written, “And the thing was good in the eyes of the Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants.” (Genesis 41:37).
Pharaoh : But the real brilliance is, once they’ve accepted the interpretation, it’s obvious there’s only one man for the top job.
Joseph : Does your majesty flatter me now?
Pharaoh : He does.
Joseph : I thought he might.
Pharaoh : No, you knew in advance. How?
Joseph : I had a dream. In last week’s portion.
Pharaoh : So dreams really are a ladder to the Divine.
Joseph : For the time being.
Pharaoh : For the time being? It’s working great; why stop?
Joseph : Three failed Jewish rebellions and an interpreter of dreams.
Pharaoh : Jewish rebellions?
Joseph : Not to worry. Much later. Against the Romans.
Pharaoh : So the Romans outlawed divination?
Joseph : No, the rabbis. Too many messiahs, not enough scholars. As it is written, “Cheats and deceivers claiming inspiration, they schemed to bring about revolutionary changes.” (Josephus, The Jewish War, Book II, c. lines 250-260.) The Romans squashed us like bugs. It was a disaster.
Pharaoh : So no more prophets allowed?
Joseph : As it is written, “The Torah is no longer in heaven.” (B.T. Bava Metzia 59b) Thus, “the sage is to be preferred over the prophet.” (B.T. Bava Batra 12b)
Pharaoh : And are you the interpreter of dreams?
Joseph : No. Fella name of Freud. He tore dreams from heaven and thrust them down, as it is written, “where all the ladders start/in the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.” (William Butler Yeats, “The Circus Animals’ Desertion,” Last Poems.)
Jeffrey Fiskin lives in Hollywood, Calif., with his wife and children.