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This interpretation would seem like an obvious next step, but Yosef says none of this. Perhaps he doesn’t see it. Or, perhaps, he understands that while the interpretation is from Hashem, what he says is within his own power. No good will come of his prediction of the destruction of Egypt and the rise of the Children of Israel and so he interprets in a limited and non-threatening way. Yosef, through his slavery and his experience with Potifar’s house, has learned the importance of non-threatening presentation. Of course, Yosef leaves the wine-maker with a message: remember what I did for you, please do something for me. And, of course, the wine-maker forgets.

With Pharaoh’s dreams, Yosef demonstrates his further development. He interprets Pharaoh’s dreams of agricultural destruction – but he immediately provides Pharaoh with an opportunity to intervene. He puts himself and his plan forward “so that the land will not be destroyed by the famine.” He offers Pharaoh a chance to serve something beyond himself and his own time. He gives him a timeless purpose: the protection of the land. By doing so, he ensures a positive outcome for his interpretation. Yosef has learned to use his interpretations to motivate others.


What we see then is a transition. In the beginning Yosef does not interpret. He lets the dreams stand by themselves, and he lets others interpret them to his detriment. He offers no positive course of action to his brothers. In the second, Yosef partially interprets, in a way that does not offend. Nonetheless, he fails to give the wine-maker some greater mission to hold on to and so he is forgotten. But in the third, Yosef put it all together. He interprets the dream, without any apparent sugar coating, but gives Pharaoh purpose in the process – thus ensuring his own elevation.

In the process of these dreams, Yosef develops a skill. Not a skill of interpretation, but of presentation. The dreams are almost like a product. The most basic business might have a product, but fail to tell people how to use it – resulting in misuse. It is likely that those who have the business might not even understand their own product. The next level of business might have a product and tell people some ways to use it – but fail to give them no reason to do so. They may only partially understand their product; but more critically they do not understand their customers. They too fail. It is the third level of business that succeeds. It has a product and it explains how it can be used to address the customers’ most fundamental desires. This is marketing of the highest form.

Yosef, with his cultivated ability to understand the fundamental needs of others, is the perfect leader for a people going into exile. His skills are the skills that successful servants – even the most powerful servants – must cultivate. He understands how to motivate others. A Yosef can face the outside world.

But Yosef is not alone in this parsha. In the middle of the reading, seemingly jammed in, we have the story of Yehudah and Tamar. Yehudah was a man who ‘went down’ from his brothers and hung out with a low-class friend and visited prostitutes who his friend paid off secretly. He did all of this while pretending to be moral. He took public morality to the point of ordering his daughter-in-law executed for harlotry – something he had himself partaken in. But she raises him up – even in the face of great danger she doesn’t say ‘this is the staff of Yehudah.’ Instead, she lets him admit the truth. And he does. He recognizes that he has fallen and he does the right thing. He rises, morally, by taking responsibility. This is another kind of leadership – the kind of leadership required of those who are not themselves servants. It is the kind of leadership that inspire the leader’s own people by the power of example.


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Joseph Cox is the author of the City on the Heights ( and an occasional contributor to the Jewish Press Online