There's a strange Rashi that's bothered me for a while.

The sar hamashkim described Yosef to Pharaoh.

Genesis 41:12

וְשָׁ֨ם אִתָּ֜נוּ נַ֣עַר עִבְרִ֗י עֶ֚בֶד לְשַׂ֣ר הַטַּבָּחִ֔ים וַנְּ֨סַפֶּר־ל֔וֹ וַיִּפְתָּר־לָ֖נוּ אֶת־חֲלֹמֹתֵ֑ינוּ אִ֥ישׁ כַּחֲלֹמ֖וֹ פָּתָֽר׃

A Hebrew youth was there with us, a servant of the chief steward; and when we told him our dreams, he interpreted them for us, telling each of the meaning of his dream.

Rashi goes through his descriptions and seemingly inserts what the intention was behind each adjective. One that caught my eye was

עבד וְכָתוּב בְּנִמוּסֵי מִצְרַיִם, שֶׁאֵין עֶבֶד מוֹלֵךְ וְלֹא לוֹבֵשׁ בִּגְדֵי שָׂרִים:

עבד a slave — and it is written in the laws of Egypt that a slave may neither become a ruler nor dress in princely robes (Genesis Rabbah 89:7).

The other descriptions also seem to be telling Pharaoh not to promote him, but this one is the most explicit. Why would the sar hamashkim think Pharaoh would make Yosef a ruler? It's one thing to predict Pharaoh rewarding Yosef for solving the dream puzzle, but no one knew yet what Yosef would say. He ended up describing a nationwide calamity that would occur and Pharaoh appointed Yosef in charge to avoid it. But how could the sar hamashkim have predicted that? What was he driving at, reminding Pharaoh that Yosef can't become a ruler?


1 Answer 1


Rav Hirsch points out that from the viewpoint of the butler and baker, they were important officials. From the viewpoint of Par'o they were his servants. In this case, if Par'o had appointed Yosef as Royal Dream Interpreter, he would have had a fancy title, official robes, and been part of the court with easy access to Par'o. As far as the courtiers were concerned, this would have immediately put him in a position to lobby Par'o and he would have been the newest favorite.

Art Scroll says that Rashi explains it in this way because people act according to their basic character no matter what they do. Thus, a courtier would act like a politician attempting to keep a rival down even when trying to do something good.

  • So this means מושל is לאו דוקה just someone of prominence?
    – robev
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 17:15
  • @robev exactly. The only real ruler was Par'o, everyone else served him and only had what power he granted them. Analogy to presidential advisors. Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 0:28
  • Yosef was the number 2 in Egypt because Paro gave him his ring, told him at least twice in this week Parsha that nobody can lift his hand on Egypt except Yosef, even if it was clear that Yosef was second for instance his chariot of second rank. Paro put Yosef as the intendant of Egypt, which was the highest responsibility, like Eliezer was at Avraham avinu's time.
    – Eli83
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 18:15

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