Last week’s parasha concludes with Yosef’s undeserved imprisonment in an Egyptian jail at the false accusation of Potiphar’s wife. While incarcerated, he rose to the top of dungeon hierarchy and analyzed the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners — Pharaoh’s chief baker and chief cupbearer.
Through prophetic insight, Yosef realized that the cupbearer would be returned to his former position of honor, and most likely would be able to influence Pharaoh on his behalf. He therefore requested, “Remember me (zichartani) when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me (v’hizkartani) to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house” (Bereishit 40:14).
While Yosef’s strategy seemed to guarantee success, this is not how matters initially played out. “[Pharaoh] restored the chief cupbearer to his [position as] cupbearer, and he placed the cup on Pharaoh’s palm … But the chief cupbearer did not remember Yosef, and he forgot him.”
Fast-forward to our parasha, where none of Pharaoh’s wise men were able to effectively interpret his disturbing dreams. This became the impetus for the chief cupbearer to finally remember Yosef, the dream analyst, and bring him to the regent’s attention. Unsurprisingly, the perplexed king quickly took advantage of this newfound opportunity. Yosef was brought before Pharaoh.
“I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it,” the king said, “but I have heard it said of you [that] you understand a dream, to interpret it.”
Yosef answered, “Not I; G-d will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh.”
Yosef had been summoned from his dungeon of despair and brought before Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the planet. Almost immediately, the monarch told him that he had heard Yosef was capable of accurately interpreting dreams.
How would we have responded to such a seemingly omnipotent ruler? Assuming that we had Yosef’s talent, most of us probably would have said, “Yes, I can interpret dreams very well. In fact, your majesty, I haven’t been wrong yet! I do have an amazing gift that is now at your service. What did Pharaoh dream? Allow me to interpret the dream’s meaning.”
Yosef, however, chose a different approach. In so doing, he took the final step toward becoming Yosef Hatzaddik, Yosef the Righteous. He said, “Biladai — Elokim ya’aneh et shalom Pharaoh.”
“It is not through my wisdom [Onkelos] that I shall interpret your dreams, G-d will provide an answer that will bring peace to Pharaoh.”
The import of these six Hebrew words cannot be overestimated. They created a chain of events that established Yosef as the key figure who enabled the Jewish people to thrive in Egypt, and subsequently survive the Egyptian exile.
Why does the phrase, “Biladai, Elokim ya’aneh et shalom Pharaoh,” have such power? We are fortunate that the Malbim, in his commentary on the Torah, provides us with an answer:
“[When Yosef declared this phrase, he was actually telling the king that] the dream was a communication of Divine Providence from Hashem. Moreover, just as Hashem sent you [Pharaoh] this communication to make known to you your future … so, too, will He make known its interpretation to the dream analyst no matter who he may be. In addition, even if the [interpretation] of this [Heavenly] message will not come from me, nonetheless, others will be able to interpret it, for even without me, certainly Hashem Himself will provide an answer to Pharaoh that will bring you peace…”
A careful reading of the Malbim’s words leads to a counterintuitive conclusion: Yosef achieved his ultimate greatness precisely because he took himself, and any agenda, completely out of the picture.
Instead, he declared that everything that takes place is completely dependent upon the Almighty, never upon an individual — no matter who he or she may be.