Parashat Miketz: The Wine-Bearer and the Baker
Parashat Miketz begins with Pharaoh’s unusual dreams, and his desperate attempt to find out what they meant. After he was dissatisfied with the interpretations given by his advisors, the Sar Ha’mashkim – the wine-bearer who had been in prison with Yosef – tells Pharaoh about Yosef, who had successfully interpreted his and his fellow inmate’s dreams. As we read in last week’s Parasha, the Sar Ha’mashkim and the Sar Ha’ofim – the baker – both dreamt dreams on the same night. The Sar Ha’mashkim dreamt that he was serving Pharaoh a cup of wine, and the Sar Ha’ofim dreamt that birds were eating bread from a basket on his head. Yosef interpreted these dreams to mean that the Sar Ha’mashkim would soon be released from prison and reinstated, whereas the Sar Ha’ofim would be executed. Sure enough, this is what happened. The Sar Ha’mashkim thus advised Pharaoh to consult with Yosef to find out what his dreams meant.
The question arises as to why Pharaoh was so impressed by Yosef’s interpretations. Was it not obvious that these dreams foretold the wine-bearer’s reinstatement and the baker’s execution? After all, the wine-bearer dreamt about serving Pharaoh wine, and the baker dreamt about birds eating food from his head, a clear reference to his imminent death. Were Yosef’s correct interpretations really that impressive?
The Malbim (Rav Meir Lebush Weiser, 1809-1879) offers a fascinating explanation to this entire episode, one which sheds an entirely new light on Yosef’s interpretation of these dreams. The Torah introduces the story by stating that the "Mashkeh" and "Ofeh" – the one who prepared the king’s drinks, and the baker – committed crimes against Pharaoh. Throughout the rest of this section, however, the Torah speaks of the Sar Ha’mashkim – the officer in charge of the drinks – and the Sar Ha’ofim – the officer in charge of the baked goods. The Malbim asserts that these terms are not interchangeable, and thus they refer to four different people. The Mashkeh and Ofeh were the ones who worked in the kitchen preparing, respectively, Pharaoh’s beverages and food. But understandably, these were not the ones who served the drinks and food to Pharaoh. It would not be respectful for the chef wearing a soiled apron to come before the king to serve. The serving was done by the Sar Ha’mashkim and Sar Ha’ofim, higher-ranking officials. And these officials, the Malbim explains, were the ones who were imprisoned and charged with crimes. They were held responsible for the mistakes that occurred – a fly in Pharaoh’s cup, and a pebble in Pharaoh’s bread.
The Malbim proceeds to explain that a trial was held, and the Sar Ha’mashkim was found guilty, whereas the Sar Ha’ofim was cleared of charges. After all, the one who brought Pharaoh’s cup bore the responsibility to ensure that nothing fell into it along the way, while the one who served the bread could not be expected to know that there was a pebble inside. These judicial rulings enjoyed broad support among the Egyptian population, and were hailed as sound, rational decisions.
This is what made Yosef’s interpretation so courageous and impressive. Yosef had the courage to state that the precise opposite would occur – the Sar Ha’mashkim would be reinstated, while the Sar Ha’ofim would be killed. Yosef’s interpretation of the dreams ran against popular sentiment and defied reason. In the end, of course, he was correct. We do not know what changed, why Pharaoh reversed the ruling and decided to have the Sar Ha’ofim executed and the Sar Ha’mashkim reinstated, but this is what happened – precisely as Yosef had predicted. And thus, indeed, Yosef’s interpretations impressed Pharaoh who immediately summoned Yosef so he could interpret his dreams, as well.