THE DREAMS OF PHAROH
Rabbi Yisroel Chait
In the beginning of the book of Exodus Chapter 1 Verse 8 it states that
"A new king arose on Egypt that did not know Joseph." There is
an argument amongst the Rabbis. Rav says it was literally a new king. Shmuel
says it was not a new king but rather the same Pharoh, who acted as though
he did not know Joseph and made new decrees against the Jews. The position
of Shmuel seems difficult. A simple reading of the text would indicate it
was merely a new king. Why did Shmuel feel compelled to twist the meaning
of the verse to such a strained interpretation. This explanation seems to
stretch the simple meaning of the verse. It is obvious that Shmuel detected
something in Pharoh's personality that indicates that he pretended as though
he did not know Joseph.
In order to properly analyze the personality of Pharoh and his relationship
with Joseph, we must examine Pharoh's dream and how Joseph's interpretation
led to his ascendancy to power. The dreams of Pharoh can help us examine
his personality. There are two causes of dreams. One is a dream of divine
origin, a prophetic vision. Another cause, is the person's wishes or the
thoughts of his unconscious. Pharoh had two dreams. By analyzing and contrasting
both dreams we should be able to determine the portion of the dream which
is prophetic and the part which is an expression of his personality. The
aspect of his dreams which are duplicative are obviously of divine origin.
However, if we examine the portions of one dream which are not common to
the other, said portion is not prophetic. It would understandably be an
expression of Pharoh's unconscience.
By analyzing the dreams we note one striking difference with respect
to the dreams concerning the cows. Pharoh sees himself as part of that dream.
Genesis Chapter 41 Verse 1 states at the end thereof "...and behold
I was standing above the river." Another unique aspect of this dream
is that it states the origin of the cows. The cows were coming up out of
the river. However, the dream of the bundles of wheat does not state their
origin. We must understand why does Pharoh include himself in the first
dream and why does he envision the cows appearing from out of the river.
Another clue to Pharoh's personality would be an analysis of his actions.
Upon Joseph's interpretation of the dreams Pharohs' response seems overwhelming.
He immediately appoints a despicable "Jewish lad, a slave" as
his Viceroy, the second most powerful position in Egypt. He dresses Joseph
in ornate clothing and extends him a regal coronation. Furthermore, when
his subjects come to ask his advise when they were starving, he replies
go to Joseph and whatever he tells you to do, abide by. It would seem rather
unlikely that Pharoh was willing to relinquish all control and credit and
suddenly bestow it upon Joseph. His response besides being overwhelming
seems incongruous to Shmuel's interpretation of his later actions. At this
juncture he seems to be a righteous individual capable of appreciating and
recognizing the good of Joseph. However, later after Joseph's death, there
is a complete transformation of his personality and he denies Joseph's existence
and in fact, acts ruthless to his people.
An understanding of the extraneous portion of his dreams can give us
an insight into his personality and can demonstrate why seemingly incompatible
actions are actually consistent with his character.
In his first dream the cows arose from the river. The Hebrew term for
river that the Torah uses is yeíor. Rashi explains that this term
is used because it is referring to the Nile. The Nile was the source of
sustenance for the land of Egypt. Egypt is a dry climate and the Nile overflows
and sustains all irrigation in Egypt. The Nile thus represents the source
for the fulfillment of the Egyptians basic needs. However, in Pharoh's dream
he was standing al haíyeíor above the Nile. This signifies
that Pharoh felt that he was above the Nile. In his own mind he was more
powerful than the powers of nature. Pharoh considered himself a G-d. In
fact, the Medrash tells us, that he even emptied his bowels without anyone
knowing. He professed to be above the laws of nature. Thus, the most threatening
occurrence to Pharoh would be if he were not in total control. It would
shatter his self image as a G-d. Thus, the occurrence of a drought was a
fearful event to Pharoh. The Torah tells us vaítepaíem rucho
; his spirit was troubled. Unconsciously, he feared losing control. That
is why in the dream he envisioned the cows coming out of the river. He feared
a natural event that would be beyond his control. He thus sensed that Joseph's
interpretation was accurate. He therefore had to come to grips with the
possibility of losing control. However, Joseph presented him with the ability
to maintain control. He realized that through Joseph he would be able to
retain control and keep intact his image as a G-d. However, in order for
him to view his reliance on Joseph as a situation akin to being in control,
he was coerced into viewing Joseph as an extension of himself. Psychologically
there was total identification with Joseph. Therefore, his response to Joseph
was overwhelming. The deification of Joseph was not an abnormal response,
but on the contrary it was necessitated by his identification with Joseph.
It was an expression of his vision of Joseph as his alter-ego. This relationship
reinforced his view that he was the most powerful force in the world. Therefore,
when people asked him what to do, he quite naturally responded, whatever
Joseph says do. It bolstered his image of being in control. Joseph's actions
were merely expressions of his own power. Pharoh and Joseph together, in
his mind were one entity.
We can now understand Shmuel's explanation. After Joseph's death, Pharoh
because of his psychological make-up faced a terrible problem. Narcissism
the love of oneself, was a key characteristic of Pharohs personality. A
narcissistic individual's psychic energies are directed towards the love
of the self. However, when a person like Pharoh, strongly identifies with
another individual and views him as his alter-ego, that other person becomes
a source of his narcissistic psychic energy. Therefore, upon Joseph's death,
the excess psychic energy could no longer be channeled towards his alter-ego.
He began to confront the same emotions that he previously experienced. He
felt threatened by the fact that he was really not in control. However,
he could not use the defense mechanism of identification but instead resorted
to denial. He was unable to confront the fact that Joseph really allowed
him to retain control. Therefore, psychologically, in order to function
without feeling threatened, he had to act as though he did not know Joseph.
Any remembrance of Joseph or acknowledging Joseph's value was painful to
his self image of being all powerful. Accordingly, not only did he have
to act as though he did not know Joseph, but that denial coerced him to
act in the opposite fashion. His remembrance of Joseph was so painful, it
served as the source for his oppression towards Joseph's people, the children
of Israel. Therefore Shmuel stated, a new king is only viewed as new, in
terms of his actions. However an analysis of Pharoh's personality indicates
that on the contrary, it was the same Pharoh. That is why the Torah specifically
articulates that the new king did not know Joseph. If he was truly a new
king the statement would be redundant. The Torah is really offering us an
insight into his nature.
An example of this type of psychological mechanism is evident in Christianity.
The Christian hates the Jew for ostensibly killing his G-d. However, this
is indicative of a psychological defense mechanism. The Christian can not
admit that we gave them their G-d, since Jesus was Jewish.
Jacob upon meeting Pharoh was keenly aware of Pharoh's true nature. His
response to Pharoh's inquiry with respect to his age seems rather lengthy
and irrelevant. Genesis Chapter 49 at Verse 9, "And Jacob said to Pharoh,
the days of the years of my sojourning are 130, few and bad were the years
of my life and I have not reached the days of the years of the lives of
my fathers, in the days of their sojourns." Naichmonedes questions
this rather lengthy response. However, based upon our insight into Pharoh's
personality, it is understandable. A person who perceives himself as all
powerful and G-d like, feels threatened by someone who possess something
that is desirable, which he does not have. Jacob realized that Pharoh had
such a personality. He sensed that Pharoh, when questioning his age, noted
he was an elder and was asking more out of a sense of envy rather than curiosity.
He sensed that he possessed something that Pharoh desired. Accordingly,
Jacob who was old, at a time when people were not living so long, responded
based upon this perception. He stated that he was not so old, and that he
did not have a good life nor live as long as my fathers. He attempted to
dispel any envy that Pharoh may have had. He did not want to entice Pharoh's
anger by giving him any cause for jealousy. Therefore, his lengthy response
was appropriate and warranted considering the circumstances.
It also explains the blessing that Jacob bestowed upon Pharoh. Rashi
tells us that he blessed him that the Nile should rise to greet him whenever
he approaches it. Jacob was aware of Pharoh's personality. This blessing
Pharoh truly cherished. It represented that even the most powerful phenomenon
of nature would be subordinate to his control.