There is a subtle lesson in Pharaoh’s “Dream of 7 Cows” for which he deserves much credit, yet isn’t often granted. We tend to derive our positive lessons in the Torah from our forefathers, and mostly negative lessons from their foes. Pharaoh does something remarkable at the beginning of the Parasha; he seeks out an inconvenient truth. It is written:
וַיְהִ֤י בַבֹּ֙קֶר֙ וַתִּפָּ֣עֶם רוּח֔וֹ וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח וַיִּקְרָ֛א אֶת־כׇּל־חַרְטֻמֵּ֥י מִצְרַ֖יִם וְאֶת־כׇּל־חֲכָמֶ֑יהָ וַיְסַפֵּ֨ר פַּרְעֹ֤ה לָהֶם֙ אֶת־חֲלֹמ֔וֹ וְאֵין־פּוֹתֵ֥ר אוֹתָ֖ם לְפַרְעֹֽה׃
- Next morning, his spirit was agitated, and he sent for all the magician-priests of Egypt, and all its sages; and Pharaoh told them his dreams, but none could interpret them for Pharaoh.
Rashi cites the Midrash that Pharaoh’s soothsayers did in fact offer interpretations to pharaoh, but these did not bring resolution “For Pharaoh.” These interpretations may have sought to comfort or reassure Pharaoh, but Pharaoh wasn’t seeking reassurance, and for that he deserves praise.
It is human nature to seek out voices that echo our inner thoughts. Social media Algorithms do this very well. They assess our interests, tastes and beliefs, and feed us content we are most likely to click and consume, and that tends to be content that validates such tastes and beliefs, rather than content that offers a differing perspective. This creates a confirmation bias, which in turn bolsters those interests and beliefs.
Pharaoh was seeking just the opposite. He intuited that these dreams were offering a message, and he chose to listen out for that message, even if it challenged him. The soothsayers, who looked and talked like Pharaoh, offered convenient answers that could ease his anxieties. Yosef, on the other hand, offered a dire warning and a call to action. He offered an inconvenient truth. Not only that; Yosef did not look, dress or talk like Pharaoh, and he was pulled from a prison cell, where the imprisoned don’t tend to care for the Pharaoh’s best interest. Pharaoh had every reason to discredit Yosef’s interpretation, and yet Pharaoh chose to accept it. In doing so he saved Egypt from a devastating recession and secured the monarchy into the next chapter of history.
A fundamental principle of Torah is מכל מלמדי השכלתי – we have what to learn from everyone. We live in an age where there is so much information immediately available to us, and much of the information out there is categorically false but packaged in a very compelling manner. This poses an exceptional challenge, whereby people truly don’t know what to believe, because competing media outlets paint two radically different versions of reality. One of the consequences of this is that people have resorted to accepting only the information that resonates with them, creating a confirmation bias, or trusting only those who look like them. This phenomenon has polarized our national and political dialogue. While I will not use this forum to offer a remedy, I would like to draw a lesson from Pharaoh’s response, that often truth comes from unexpected places, and often truth is inconvenient. When we mute inconvenient truths from unconventional places, we risk hurting ourselves.