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Fat Cows Rule

In this week’s portion, the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh, dreamed of seven fat cows that were swallowed up by seven skinny cows, yet somehow remained just as skinny as before. Joseph interpreted this dream to mean that seven years of famine would follow and “eat up” seven years of plenty. Joseph also provided a solution—a system in which Egypt was able to store grain from the years of plenty to prevent the severe effect of the famine. The interpretation of the dream and its solution lead Joseph out from his prison cell to become appointed by Pharaoh as the governor of Egypt.

The episode of the skinny cows eating the fat cows in Pharaoh’s dream is illustrative for all of us. It refers to the human tendency to ignore the positive aspects of our lives and allow negativity to “swallow” them up.

The faculty of imagination is the power of the mind to make connections between two things that are not obviously associated. The Torah teaches us that if our imagination is not directed correctly, then it will make erroneous connections that cause emotional imbalance. If we don’t control and direct this power within us, it will control us. If, however, we channel it properly to see the goodness, we can rectify our circumstances.

Rather than allow ourselves to get “swallowed up” by thinking our way into depression, we can not only look for the revealed good, but also the hidden benefits of every circumstance. By adopting the attitude that whatever happens is good and is for our good, we will be able to live the Chassidic dictum: Tracht gut vet zein gut (“Think good and it will be good”).

Before selling Joseph as a slave, which leads him to his imprisonment, Joseph’s brothers had thrown him into a pit that “was empty; there was no water in it” (Gen. 37:24). Rashi explains that the pit was dry, but filled with snakes and scorpions.

Again, there lies a message for us. The pit represents our mind, which if not filled with the life-giving waters of Torah will be filled with poisonous thoughts that can destroy us.1

Many of us do not actually banish the skinny cows; indeed, they graze in the pastures of our minds with a vengeance. We experience years of obstacles, disappointment and losses in creating our dream.

But we can reframe these skinny cows and instead see them as opportunities for growth. We need to stand up to our skinny cows, and not allow them to swallow our confidence and hope.

Praying, learning Torah and applying what we have learned in a positive way are all aspects of the proper use of the imaginative faculty. As Ethics of Our Fathers teaches (Pirkei Avot 4:11): “If you toil much in Torah, there is much reward.”

Let’s allow our fat cows to rule the pasture by becoming aware of the real power of our imagination, and convert the enemy within into the ultimate ally by seeing opportunities and blessings even in the challenges.



Likutei Sichot, vol. 15, pp. 324–325.

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