The Sedra of Mikeitz starts with Pharaoh’s dreams. Seven fat cows are consumed by seven thin ones. Seven healthy ears of corn swallowed by seven sick ones. Pharaoh is so distressed that he sends for Egypt’s wise men and magicians. They are unable to interpret the dream. The failure of the Egyptian experts is astonishing. In societies where dreams are seen as containing elements of prophecy (like ours) the interpretation of dreams was an art form. Almost anyone could see the true message of Pharaoh’s dreams. There were to be seven years of abundance followed by famine. Why were the Magicians unable to divine it? Especially if we bear in mind that they had the ability to look into the future as seen by their accurate prediction of the birth of Moses and his mission.
It was this very ability to see into the future which defeated the magicians now. They heard the dream and instantly concluded that it was a portent of a catastrophic famine. They then looked into the future and saw……no famine! No one starved in Egypt; Joseph would take steps to insure it.
The ability to see the future is a very dangerous gift indeed. Rashi says that the reason that Korach decided to prosecute his attack on Moses and to claim the leadership of the Jews was precisely because he was a prophet. When he gazed ahead in time he saw that generations of great men were destined to come from him. Shmuel, whom the Talmud equates to Moses and Aaron, was his direct descendant. It was this which led him to conclude that he was obviously going to win the fight and supplant Moses. He did not however see the full picture. His sons eventually sided with Moses and so survived and allowed the line of Korach to carry on, even if he would not personally survive. When the spies are dispatched to the land of Israel, Moses is told by G-d to select only the best candidates from amongst the leaders of the Jews. They go and bring back a damning report. Rabbi Yoseph Salanterexplains that again it was the fact of their prophetic abilities (all Jews in the exodus generation reached the level of prophecy) which destroyed them. When they looked ahead they saw that they, who were leaders of the Jews in the desert, had been replaced by others when the Jews entered Israel. This fact biased them against seeing the positive side of the land of Israel and focused them on the negative. It was only because they brought back the negative report however which caused them to be absent from the settlers of Israel and meant that others would replace them. On the last day of Chanukah I took my wife into the town centre to do some shopping. I dropped her outside the department store and agreed to rendezvous with her in the store. Having parked my car I followed her into the store at 11.30 am and only found her again at 2.30 pm. We succeeded in missing each other as we searched vainly for three hours. When, thanks to the security guards we did meet, we were both in the worst of moods. The trip out was a disaster, my dinner, in the oven at home was now a burnt offering and I still had to prepare the Menorah for Chanukah. I arrived home and started to fix the wicks into their holders when someone walked up my pathway. It was a young man whom I had been advising over several months with a relationship problem. He seemed very upset and asked if he could see me immediately. You will hardly be surprised that this unscheduled visit at this particular time did not fill me with joy. I explained that with the time to light the Chanukiah fast approaching, I wasn’t really available. He insisted that it was VERY urgent. I replied that into every life a little rain must fall and that I have just had about three hundred gallons poured down the back of my neck. He again insisted that he must see me and so I went into the house accompanied by my urgent friend. I should say at this point that I correctly guessed what the problem was…his inability to embrace the advice which I had given him on several previous occasions. When people come for advice I usually try to encourage them to make the correct decision themselves. Often by pointing them in the right direction or explaining why the wrong direction would be a mistake, the correct path presents itself. On this occasion however my patience was somewhat tattered. My friend told me exactly what I knew he would and I “let him have it”. I ended by very forcefully (almost shouting) that he could listen to me and salvage a relationship or go his own sweet way and ruin his whole ambition. I think I hammered my fist on the table a few times for good measure and after I had finished the poor guy looked at me and then smiled with a confidence which I had never seen him display before, he smiled and said “You’re right, I feel so much better and relieved, I’ll go and do what you say right away” and he did. Had I the ability to look into the future I would not have gone into town with my wife and endured three hours of frustration and boredom. That in turn would have meant I would not have been the exact frame of mind to ignore my usual practice and aggressively attack this poor fellow. In turn he would never have had a happy ending to his story. Rabbi Dessler says “The past is gone…the future is uncertain…concentrate on the present, that’s where your life really is.”

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!

Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb

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