Torah Reading for Week of November 24-30, 2013
“Joseph’s World of Dreams”
By Tamar Frankiel, Ph.D., AJRCA President
This week’s parsha opens with a dream of Pharaoh, with images of fat and skinny cows, paralleled by rich and withered corn, and the numerology of seven. In the second chapter of the parsha, when Jacob’s sons come to Egypt to buy food, Joseph recognized his brothers and “remembered the dreams that he had dreamed of them” (Gen 41.6), referring to the dreams of the stalks of grain that bowed down to his, and the sun, moon and stars that bowed down to him.
Two doubled dreams, whose interpretation set in motion major events. In the case of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph read them as prophecies of years of good harvests followed by famine. In the case of Joseph’s dreams, his brothers’ reading of them as evidence of their younger brother’s drive for power led to his captivity and slavery in Egypt.
Notice, however, that Joseph has a way of reading the dream such that a positive resolution can be found. Good harvests followed by famine? Then we need some strategic planning and economic centralization. While it sounds quite practical, the assumption is that the dream comes from G-d, and therefore it must show a path to a good outcome. His proposal, born of dream wisdom, appealed to Pharaoh, who appointed Joseph to take charge.
In the case of his own dreams, Joseph did not accept the negative, power-mongering interpretation of his brothers but, like his father, “guarded the matter” (Gen 37.11). Now, as his brothers bowed before him in humility, seeking to buy grain, he again realized that G-d was speaking through the dream. Necessarily then, a good outcome was intended, and he began devising a way to bring the family back together – not to reign over them as his brothers had feared, but to save them. As Joseph will later affirm, “G-d sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45.5).
From this the rabbis learned that one should always “give the dream a good turn,” as it says in the Talmudic tractate Berachot. When a dream court met to consider a particularly difficult dream, they would recite blessings of peace and goodness before they would offer the dreamer an understanding of it.
This can help us remember that we have a choice in interpreting dreams – or, to speak more broadly, a choice in reading people’s inner desires. We can, like Joseph’s brothers, relate to them with fear, jealousy, or anxiety about power. Or we can, like Joseph, see in them the workings of divine intention, however strange they may appear on the surface – and use our own abilities to turn them to good.