Shriveled, we often translate it…as in: “the sheaves of grain foretelling seven years of upcoming famine were shriveled.” But that word, tz’numot, is without precedent in the Biblical text. Rashi thinks it’s from the same root as the Aramaic word “rock.” Onkelos translates that it means the grain blossoms had been emptied of their seeds. Rashbam simply sees fit to remind us that no other word related to this one appears anywhere in the Bible. Ibn Ezra gets creative when he says some say it means “images,” as it does in Arabic. Nachmanides throws a lot of words at the problem before saying it means “shredded.” So much commentary on a seemingly superfluous word, and without a definition drawn from other uses no one can be proved wrong. So why did they — and why do we — care?
Perhaps it amplifies the urgency of Pharoah’s dream. Seven fat cows, seven skinny cows, seven healthy stalks, seven shriveled stalks. Two separate seven year cycles? No, says Rashi, just one that is really going to happen. Shriveled, rock like, shredded, images of grain? It’s going to be unprecedented, just like the word tz’numot. Famine is coming, it’s going to be bad, and Pharaoh needs advice and guidance and interpretation. Enter Joseph, a man in whom there is the spirit of God, to save the day. And his brothers. And his people. And us.
Freud claims that all details of a dream – even the most ridiculous – have significance. I’m not entirely sure I agree, but this little detail seems to have saved the day.