The following section of Zohar discusses Pharaoh's dream, in which he saw seven fat cows emerging from the river, which were swallowed by seven emaciated cows. Then he saw seven sheaves of full healthy stalks of wheat which were swallowed up by seven sheaves of withered and emaciated wheat.

Then, from the river there emerged seven cows of pleasing appearance and healthy flesh, and they were grazing in the marshlands. (Gen. 41:2)

The only image in Pharaoh's dream that is not interpreted by Joseph is the river. The river is taken to mean the Nile, which was the source of sustenance for all of Egypt.

Rabbi Elazar said: Then, from the river... (ibid.) [as if to ask, "What is the meaning of the river in Pharaoh's dream?"]

[It is the] river from which all of the levels below are blessed, because this river is drawn down and goes forth to irrigate and nourish them all. Joseph is the river for whom all of Egypt was blessed.

The sefira of yesod…draws down the waters of the world of Atzilut into Beriya….

In other words, the river that sustains all of the lower levels is the attribute of Joseph - the sefira of yesod of the world of Atzilut, which draws down the waters of the world of Atzilut into Beriya. More technically, into daat of Beriya, from which the seven midot from chesed to malchut branch out.

Come and see: seven levels [the seven midot mentioned above] are irrigated and blessed by him. Those are the ones about whom it says, [They were] of pleasing appearance and healthy flesh". (ibid.)

And they grazed among the reeds.

The Hebrew for "among the reeds", "ba'achu", has the same root as the word for "brotherliness", "b'achava".

[Accordingly, this alludes to] their interconnection and harmony - there is no separation among them. And therefore they have this praiseworthy quality [of unity].

All of these seven levels we mentioned are a mystical truth….

All of these seven levels we mentioned are a mystical truth, as is written, "And the seven maidens fitting to be given to her from the house of the king" (Esther 2:9).

These are the seven maidens that were given to Queen Esther by King Ahasuerus.

This is why they are referred to as "seven cows of pleasing appearance" [referring to the seven sefirot from the side of holiness].

Opposite them are those about whom the verse states: "…the seven eunuchs who serve in the presence of the king" (Esther 1:10).

Here, these refer to the seven ugly cows. They allude to sefirot of the unholy realms.

On a deeper level, the sefirot of holiness are actually the sefirot of the world of Tikun, whereas the sefirot from the unholy side are the sefirot of the world of Tohu. The Jewish people would have to come down to Egypt to elevate the holy sparks that fell into the physical world when the world of Tohu shattered. This is what was being shown to Joseph in Pharaoh's dreams. (Ramaz)

Rabbi Yitzchak [disagreed with the previous analysis. According to him Pharaoh did not discern the sefirot of the world of Beriya. He] said: "the seven good cows" refers to those levels above [the sefirot of the world of Asiya]. And "the seven ugly cows" are the seven other levels below.

This refers to the seven levels of kelipa. (Mikdash Melech)

A person is shown things in his dreams according to what kind of person he is….

The first seven are from the side of holiness, and the other seven are from the aspect of spiritual impurity.

Rabbi Yehuda [agreeing with Rabbi Yitzchak] said: the first ones are good, because they are from the right side [the side of holiness], regarding which it is written: [G‑d saw] that it was good (Gen. 1:4) . And the bad ones are below [in kelipa].

The seven sheaves are from the side of purity; the other ones are from the side of impurity. These levels exist one above the other - these opposite those. And Pharaoh saw all of them in his dream.

Said Rabbi Yaisa: Was all of this shown to that wicked Pharaoh?

Rabbi Yehuda replied: He saw only their likeness, for there are levels upon levels, some opposite the other, and some above the others. He saw only those levels below.

From this we learn that a person is shown things in his dreams according to what kind of person he is. [When he is asleep] his soul rises up to receive knowledge - each according to his proper level. And so Pharaoh saw only what was fitting for him to see, and no more.

This contrasts with Joseph, who understood the matter on a far deeper level. Accordingly, there is no disagreement between the two opinions - Rabbi Elazar's explanation applies to Joseph and what he understood from the Pharaoh's dreams, whereas Rabbi Yitzchak and Rabbi Yehuda explain what Pharaoh himself saw.

[[Zohar I, p. 193b; translation and commentary by Moshe Miller, first published by Fiftieth Gate Publications and Seminars.]