Pharaoh has a dream about seven lean cows that swallow seven fat cows followed by another dream of seven healthy ears of grain that are swallowed by seven meager ears of grain. Pharaoh, disturbed by the ominous nature of these twin dreams ultimately depends on Joseph to decipher them.


Joseph interprets the seven lean cows and thin ears of grain swallowing up the fat cows and healthy ears of grain as a prediction of a terrible famine that will last seven years and will swallow up the memory of the seven years of plenty that will immediately precede the famine.


Since these dreams were responsible for Joseph’s ascension to power, his reunion with his brothers and father and the subsequent Egyptian exile that led to the forging of a Jewish people who would be liberated and receive the Torah at Sinai it is reasonable to conclude that these dreams contain a message for us as Jews in terms of our role in the world.


The following is one insight based on a discrepancy in the way dream is described in the Torah and the way Pharaoh recounts it to Joseph. Our Sages point out that it was a deliberate attempt by Pharaoh to hide a certain detail.


The parsha begins with: “Pharaoh was dreaming, and behold he was standing on the Nile.”


The Hebrew can be rendered as “he was standing by the Nile, but the literal meaning of the word “al” is “on.”


Yet when he recounts the dream to Joseph he alters that detail and states instead, “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile.” 


Our Sages point out that Pharaoh did indeed imagine himself standing on the Nile in his dream. However, he was embarrassed to tell Joseph that part because the Nile was an Egyptian deity. Everything they had could be traced back to the Nile. Egypt’s entire economy was based on the Nile. It would have been the height of irreverence to imply that he was dreaming of how he stood on his g-d! He therefore edited that part out of his report of the dream.


The Midrash points out that Joseph knew the truth about the dream and indeed reminded Pharaoh that he had misrepresented the facts of his dream. The Midrash cites Psalm 81 as the source of Joseph’s remarks to him:


“He ordained it as a testimony for Joseph when he went over the land of Egypt: I heard a language that I did not know.” The Hebrew word for language “s’fat” also carries the meaning of “[river] bank.” Joseph, the Midrash explains, was actually saying to Pharaoh: “I heard not the word “bank.” Joseph was in effect rebuking Pharaoh for adding the word “bank” in his description of where he was standing in relation to the Nile. 


Why was it so important for Joseph to expose Pharaoh’s lie?


The Egyptian worship of the Nile, like all pagan deities are diametrically opposite the belief we have in one G‑d. The difference is not just a quantitative one; they believe in multiple g-ds, we believe in one. That difference suggests another major difference. Their notion of a g-d as a source of worship is in actuality a way of worshipping one’s own interests.


Judaism believes that G‑d created us in His image. That means that G‑d gave us intelligence and the ability to choose between right and wrong. Pagan worship of multiple g-ds is a belief that g-ds are created in the image of man. And since man is multifaceted and gravitates from one extreme to another, their belief in a man-made deity also manifests itself in the belief in multiple g-ds, each with a different character to mirror human characteristics. And just as human traits comprise the entire spectrum ranging from good to evil, moral to immoral; their gods likewise possess all of the human traits.


This is what Pharaoh’s standing on the Nile symbolizes: While the Nile was his g-d, he stood on it. He considered himself superior to his g-d because in reality it, just like all other pagan g-ds—was his own creation. And while Pharaoh was loathe to admit that his faith was not ennobling but rather degrading, Joseph was committed to exposing the truth about the relationship between Pharaoh and his g-ds: “What is this about the “river-bank” that you said you saw?”


There is another interesting parallel to the imagery of Pharaoh standing “on the Nile-on his g-d” that also relates to another Pharaoh. In fact it is in the narrative of Pharaoh’s daughter saving Moses from the Nile. The Torah describes how she went to bathe “on the Nile.” Contrast that with the way the Torah describes the location of her maidens: “on the side of the Nile.” While she was standing above the Nile, they were standing alongside it.


Rashi tells us that her bathing in the Nile was actually a ritual designed to cleanse herself from her father’s idolatry. How apt then is the description of her bathing on the Nile, for that was her way of demonstrating that the Nile was a man made creation. This was her introduction to the saving of Moses, which led to the ultimate liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage and idol worship.


By reminding Pharaoh of the insulting image of him standing on his g-d, Joseph was attempting to expose the truth about many of the world’s isms that claim altruism and purport to raise us to higher levels. In truth the people behind these isms stand on their own g-d’s and use them as a means to serve their own selfish interests. Joseph’s entry onto the scene of leadership—that eventually led to the creation of a Jewish nation—was, in effect, highlighted by his denunciation of all forms of man-made idol worship. The same declaration was made once more soon after Moses’ birth by Pharaoh’s own daughter.


And throughout history we were given these stark reminders about the depravity of those who worship other g-ds, be they crude idols made of wood and stone or sophisticated philosophies. The common denominator is that they are all projections of man’s own base instincts onto a deity that provides them with license to continue on that path without guilt.


A dramatic reminder of the moral bankruptcy of pagan ideology is the story of Chanukah, the Holiday that coincides with this week’s Torah reading.


The Syrian Greeks who oppressed the Jews in the time of Chanukah were believers in Greek Mythology with their pantheon of deities. With all their sophistication, they were among the worst idol worshippers, who glorified their own vices and turned them into g-ds. 


When we were victorious over them during this Holiday it was a victory over the true understanding of a g-d who transcends us and has created us to follow His example, rather than creating g-d’s who follow our example. 


It is no wonder that our Sages describe the darkness that existed at the beginning of creation as a reference to ancient Greece. And when G‑d said “Let there be light” He was referring to the light of Chanukah that banished that darkness.


It is no coincidence that Joseph—whose name means to increase—is associated with the lighting of the Menorah. The Mitzvah requires that we increase the light each and every night.


In light of the foregoing analysis of Joseph exposure of Pharaoh the connection becomes more clear. Joseph was determined to expose the fallacy of the pagan mindset. Similarly, the light of the Chanukah Menorah is designed to dispel the darkness that comes from the ancient Greek’s glorification of their g-ds, including their glorification of philosophy, art and sports. And while Judaism has nothing against these disciplines, it recognizes them as tools for us to become better human beings, not objects of worship and glorification.


All of exile has been likened by our Sages to the darkness of night. This is partly because we do not see the reality of G‑d. And frequently we try to mold our notion of G‑d into our own image. And while we are reluctant to admit that our lives are about self-worship, that is often the reality. The light of Chanukah—which our Sages tell us—is a taste of the light of Moshiach helps to dispel that darkness, by exposing the Pharaoh’s of the world and how they really stand on their own g-ds.

Each night of Chanukah, when we kindle the added light, it brings us one step closer to Moshiach when G‑d’s light will rid the world of all these alien g-ds, and the entire world will recognize that G‑d is one and His name is one.