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Mikeitz: The most arrogant person in history

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Who has been the most arrogant person who has ever lived?

A candidate for this dubious title would certainly be Pharaoh, King of Egypt.

Parshat Mikeitz commences with the words,

“Vayehi mikeitz shnatayim yamim uPharoh choleim, vehinei hu omed al hayaor,” – “And after two years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream and behold, he was standing over the river.”

(Bereishit 41:1)

The Egyptians deified the river Nile, because they depended on its waters for their very lives. Pharaoh was ‘omed al hayaor,’ – he stood over the river, indicating that he saw himself as the ultimate, supremely powerful ‘god of gods’.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his sefer Oznaim laTorah, points out that this explains why the Egyptian sages interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams as as being connected with Pharaoh’s own self – his self-importance, his personal life, his personal future, etc. But they were wrong.

Joseph stepped forwards and he gave what Pharaoh knew to be the true interpretation because Joseph saw in Pharaoh not just somebody who was living for himself. A true and great leader is somebody who is concerned about his people and about the entire world. Therefore Joseph’s interpretation related to all of Egypt and all of Humankind at the time.

Pharaoh liked Joseph’s interpretations and in turn he lived up to the aspirations for his kingship, and as a result he entrusted Joseph with the responsibility to guarantee that Egypt and the world would be prepared for those seven years of famine.

Rav Sorotzkin adds a further word. The Torah tells us, “uPharoah omed al hayaor,” in the present tense, that is, not “Pharaoh stood over the river,” but “Pharaoh is standing over the river,” indicating that Pharaoh, King of Egypt would not be the only ruler who would be in power for his own sake.

Unfortunately and tragically, there are some Pharaoh-styled rulers who exist to this day – rulers of nations, who are only concerned about their own grandeur, about their own power, about their own control; rulers who are willing, at the expense of their people, to engage in dangerous pursuits; willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of their people, just to guarantee that they will have more power on earth.

Joseph’s timeless message for us is that a great leader uses their seat of power not for their own sake, but for the sake of all others.

Shabbat shalom.