Paroh dreams a bizarre dream, that is in fact a premonition of events to come:
וְהִנֵּה מִן הַיְאֹר עֹלֹת שֶׁבַע פָּרוֹת יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה וּבְרִיאֹת בָּשָׂר וַתִּרְעֶינָה בָּאָחוּ – And behold, from the Nile were coming up seven cows, of attractive appearance and robust flesh, and they pastured in the marshland. (41:2)
Yosef offers an interpretation – but why does Paroh so readily accept it? The assurance of an out of favour butler is not sufficient enough to base government on policy on the word of a young prisoner. What did Paroh perceive in Yosef’s interpretation?
It is interesting to note that the words יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה are used, which is loosely translated as having “attractive appearance”. This is imprecise. We find in 29:17, that “וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה – Leah’s eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful countenance.” What is the difference between תֹּאַר and מַרְאֶה? Rashi there explains that תֹּאַר is physical beauty, and מַרְאֶה is the radiance of the countenance – coarsely the vibe they give off. In Hebrew, חן.
The Torah records that Pharaoh dreamed of יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה cows, radiantly beautiful cows. If the premise sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone: it did to Pharaoh too! When he recounted his dream to Yosef, he changed what he saw to וִיפֹת תֹּאַר, physically attractive cows, rather than what he’d seen, יפות מראה radiant cows.
When Paroh heard Yosef speak about something he had deliberately neglected to mention, he believed Yosef. Cows don’t have personalities or spirits: people do. People with shining countenances are happy and do not envy each other – these are the years of plenty.
Paroh had no idea how to explain it, and fudged it a little. But Yosef picked up on it and caught him out – that’s how he knew Yosef was for real!