Hod Did Joseph Know?

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Dreams are manifestations of hidden phenomena. Understanding this, Joseph knew that God engages dreams to communicate with man (Numbers 12:6), indicating that just as dreams contain hidden meanings, certainly God’s dreams contain hidden truths, and to a far greater degree. God’s mode of communicating via dreams teaches that God’s words too must undergo interpretation, just like dreams. God’s wisdom is deep and man must “search for it like silver and chase after it like buried treasures” (Proverbs 2:4).

How did Joseph know the dreams’ meanings? 

Cows are used to plow and grain is the produce—food. Plowing and harvesting are seasonal, which, by definition, is a yearly phenomenon. Pharaoh saw healthy cows and healthy grain—abundant food. The 7 healthy ears of grain “growing on a single stalk” also indicate abundance: much grew on a single stalk. Emaciated cows and grain indicates lack of food. The emaciated cows and withered grain both “came after” the healthy ones. “After” indicates time. Joseph knew that some negative agricultural occurrence would follow a positive occurrence. Joseph interpreted this as famine following abundance. For negativity regarding food, is the lack of food.  

As Rabbi Chait explained, the dream recipient is also indicative. Pharaoh controlled the country. Therefore, he—and no other—was the recipient of this dream so he could use this information to manage Egypt’s affairs. As Joseph said, “What God plans to do, He has shown Pharaoh” (Gen. 41:25). 

Seven other cows followed them, scrawny, of very bad appearance, and emaciated—never had I seen such bad cows in all the land of Egypt. And the seven lean and ugly cows ate the first seven cows, the healthy ones; but when they had consumed them, one could not tell that they had consumed them, for they looked just as bad as before (Gen. 41:19-21). 

What was significant about Pharaoh’s reaction of never seeing such emaciated cows in Egypt? This bothered Pharaoh in his capacity of the country’s leader; he could not tolerate failure. A leader remains in power only if he secures success. Failure spells the end of his reign. Another person would not sense concern or responsibility for the country. The dreams disturbed Pharaoh (Gen. 41:8). Emaciated cows compelled Pharaoh to somehow correct Egypt’s poor—impending—status and accept Joseph’s solution of storing grain, as was God’s plan with these dreams. The dreams’ ultimate intent was that Jacob and the tribes descend to a plentiful Egypt due to the famine: the first step in creating the Jewish nation. 

Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream” (Num. 12:6)

God teaches that only prophets receive divine dreams. As prophecy has ended, our dreams are merely manifestations of our own thoughts and feelings. They are not premonitions of true events, or divine forecasts. But they should be analyzed to discover truths about ourselves (Tal. Brachos chap. 9).