Despite the unflattering description of Yosef by the Sar haMashkim as a na’ar, an educated boy, an Ivri, a foreigner, Pharoah still gave Yosef the chance to interpret his dream. As a result of Yosef’s correct interpretation he was appointed second in command of Egypt, and when the Egyptians complained to Pharoah that Yosef demanded that they perform milah before he would release the food stores, Pharoah dismissed their complaints and ordered them to obey Yosef. We see in this little episode an interesting clash of values. On the one hand, Pharoah would certainly be as inclined as the Sar haMashkim to be dismissive of this young Ivri foreigner. On the other hand, Ramban tells us that Pharoah was a man of great intelligence, someone who could not fail to recognize the superior wisdom of Yosef. Which trait won out? -- the trait of wisdom, earning Yosef his position. R’ Simcha Zisel (Chochma u’Mussar #140) writes that it is inherent in the nature even of a rasha who is a wise person to defer to what they recognize as true wisdom.
We see this reflected in Yosef’s words to his brothers, “VaYisimeini l’av l’Pharaoh u’ladon l’chol beiso” (45:8). Ibn Ezra explains the term av here means father of an idea, like “avi tofeish kinor.” We see from a careful reading of the pasuk the difference between Pharoah and all others. To the Egyptian populace Yosef was an “adon”, a master who must be obeyed willy-nilly, but to Pharaoh he was an “av”, a source of ideas and wisdom, someone whose advice should be followed because it was the wisest course of action.
I don’t have much familiarity with R’ Simcha Zisel’s writings so maybe it’s just me, but this idea seems to run counter to what I thought was classical mussar. Classical mussar as I perhaps misunderstand it addresses itself to the perfection of midos because chochma alone is not enough to direct behavior and attitude. Chochma can be led astray and corrupted. For example, R’ Elchanan explains that we are all capable to fulfilling the mitzvah of emunah because the intelligence to do is innate; the reason so many “intelligent” people fail the test and become atheists is because intelligence can be corrupted by desire and will. Yet, here R’ Simcha Zisel tells us that Pharoah, despite all his rishus (and R’ Simcha Zisel does call him a rasha), is able to overcome his distaste for Yosef precisely because love of wisdom trumps other values. Is this a contradiction? Maybe someone out there who knows more about R’ S.Z. has an explanation.