KISSing is good. Or, should I say, K.I.S.S. is good. That is, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” As with many pithy sayings for wiser living handed down to us by previous generations, this is a particularly good one to live by. Admittedly, when explaining the best way to perform open heart surgery, or how we can split atoms in order to create an atomic bomb, keeping it simple might not be the best strategy. But when explaining why people tend to act in certain ways, or why world events are developing as they are, complicated explanations are often the wrong way to go. Simpler is often better.
It was just this tendency to offer an intricate solution in place of a simpler one which propelled the Biblical Joseph to fame. In Parashat Mikeitz, Pharaoh, like Joseph in last week’s Torah portion, dreams strange dreams (41:1-7). In the first dream, as Pharaoh stands by the River Nile, seven well-fed cows ascend from the river, and graze on the shoreline. Suddenly, seven emaciated cows follow them out of the Nile, and proceed to devour the first seven. And Pharaoh awoke. When he went back to sleep, he dreamed a second dream. In this dream, he saw seven full and hearty ears of grain on a single stalk. These were followed by seven thin, wind-blown ears of grain, which, like the seven skinny cows did to the fat cows, make a meal for themselves out of the seven solid ears of grain.
Understandably, Pharaoh is troubled by these odd visions, and he summons his magicians and wise men to interpret them for him. Records the Bible: “…but none could interpret them for Pharaoh.” “None could interpret them?” exclaims R’ Yehoshua Yitzchak Shapira (1800-1873, Slonim, Belarus)*. How could this be? Pharaoh had the wisest and cleverest men in the world at his beck and call! None of his advisers knew what the dreams meant?
It was not that no wise man had an explanation for Pharaoh, explains R’ Yehoshua Yitzchak. It was that their explanations were more complicated than Pharaoh thought they should be. As Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, 1040-1105, Troyes, France; Worms, Germany) puts it, the key words in the sentence are “for Pharaoh.” The wise men had plenty of explanations, but none made sense to Pharaoh, or “entered into [Pharaoh’s] ears.” One explanation said that Pharaoh would have seven daughters (represented by the seven fat cows; if nothing else, these wise men had guts to describe Pharaoh’s daughters, to his face, as “fat cows”), and he would bury all of them (represented by the skinny cows). The healthy-looking- and wind-blown ears of grain were said to represent seven kingdoms to be conquered by Pharaoh, which would subsequently rebel against him. Pharaoh didn’t buy these.
Enter Joseph. After hearing the dreams, Joseph proposes a new, simpler, solution. “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same,” he declares, noticing that the dreams are quite similar. “The seven healthy cows are seven years, and the seven healthy ears are seven years; it is the same dream” (41:25-26). Joseph proceeds to explain that Egypt will soon experience seven years of overwhelming plenty, to be followed by seven years of crushing famine; plan ahead starting now, he advises. This explanation Pharaoh accepts, and allows to “enter his ears.” Why? Because it made so much sense. It was simple. In contrast to the Egyptian magicians, Joseph addressed the fact that the dreams took place by the Nile, as well as the fact that the main characters were connected with agriculture. Furthermore, he explained why there were two nearly identical dreams instead of just one – the events depicted were going to take place in the very near future.
Joseph is teaching us a valuable lesson: Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. This is especially true for those who may had an elite education, who sometimes have a tendency to overthink things. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel.” When trying to understand human nature, in particular, the simplest explanation is often the wisest explanation. Science and technology have always been changing and developing; human nature, not so much.
Let’s do like Joseph did, and just Keep It Simple, Stupid. Let’s have more KISSing in our lives.
*Also known as ר’ אייזל חריף/R’ Eizel the Spicy, for his sharp wit and manner.
— Based on ב. יאושזון, מאוצרנו הישן – בראשית, p. 196