The Torah / Bible 1 tells the story of Pharaoh seeking a dream interpreter, in hopes he can make sense of a dream he had. Pharaoh ends up calling on all the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but no one seems to be able to interpret the dream.

At the end Joseph interprets the dream and gives Pharaoh some advice. In short, he interprets the dream as meaning that Egypt is about to experience 7 amazing prosperous years, followed by 7 years of famine. He goes on to advise Pharaoh that during the prosperous years, Egypt should stock up on food so they have plenty during the hunger years. Pharaoh is so satisfied with Joseph’s interpretation that he proclaims that there is no one as wise and smart as Joseph. Pharaoh makes Joseph second only to him and proceeds to call him “Zaphnath Paaneah” commonly translated as “revealer of secrets”. 2

Why in a place like Egypt that the Torah itself tells us had powerful Magicians 3, could what seems to be a rather simple interpretation, and obvious advice, be considered so wise and smart? Furthermore, How could it be that all those experts Pharaoh called on, couldn’t figure it out?

To answer this question we simply must look to our own recent history, and realize the shortcomings of the human brain.

The 07-08 financial crisis was triggered by a massive housing bubble in the USA. What happened is; For 5+ year’s banks lent money to everyone and anyone that wanted to purchase a house. Because banks made it easy to buy a house (including offering 104% financing), more people were buying homes hence the price of homes skyrocketed.

The banks became more aggressive with their lending as they saw zero risk with ramping up their borrowing. After all, who cares if someone defaults on their home? Few people are defaulting and with the price of homes continuing to rise who cares if people default? After all, they can always liquidate it and even make more money on it.

Even the smartest and brightest in finance, saw nothing wrong with what was going on leading up to the massive financial crash of 07-08. Peter Schiff, One of the few who did identify and warn about the impending collapse, was at the time laughed at on live national television. After all, how dare he suggest that the current status quo might change?

What was even more remarkable was that during all those great years, the banks didn’t build much of a financial cushion just in case things collapsed. This led almost all financial institutions to beg for bailout money in order to remain solvent. Many financial institutions ended up going out of business because they really didn’t anticipate that the status quo can possibly change.

The stock market is another example. People buy into a stock that had a few good days thinking it will continue going up for a long time, and they sell stock as soon as they see a few bad days thinking it will continue to follow whatever trend it is currently on.

We had the Roaring 20’s followed by the Great Depression (1929). It became apparent very quickly that almost no one was prepared for the market crash, as many couldn’t imagine the Roaring 20’s not turning into the Roaring 30’s. Over and over, history has shown us, that the current trends are bound to change and the biggest changes both positive and negative (sometimes it’s positive to some and negative to others), happen quickly and when least expected.

To interpret Pharaohs dream one would have to truly understand that the current status quo is meaningless and be open to the idea that it can change quickly. Joseph knew that (or as he told Pharaoh God is giving him the knowledge to answer Pharaoh, Bereishit 41:16.) Not just did he have the ability to interpret the dream correctly, but he was able to advise Pharaoh to stock up on food during the great years so they are prepared for the hunger years.

Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, author of the famed commentary on the Torah, Ohr HaChaim, explains; That at the time when Joseph interpreted the dream to Pharaoh, Egypt was doing great. In addition he writes that it was important to urge Pharaoh to prepare for the hunger years, because if not, people would simply start assuming that the good years will continue forever and they would become lazy and not put in much effort to make their fields produce anything more than they need during the great years. 4

The Torah tells us 5 that after Joseph deciphered the dream to Pharaoh and offered up his advice, Pharaoh Proceeds to call him a “Chacham”(smart one) . Our sages teaches us,  6 “Who is a wise man (Chacham)? Someone who can see the future”. We can now all appreciate the wisdom that God instilled in Joseph, a wisdom that seems so obvious but remains so very elusive, even in our generation, and is still relevant.


  1. Bereishit-Genesis 41
  2. Targum Onkelos & Yonatan ben Uziel Bereishit 41:45
  3. Shemot / Exodus 7:12
  4. See Or HaChaim on Bereishit 41:27 and 41:34
  5. Bereishit 41:39
  6. BT Tractate Tamid 32a