Torah Reading for Week of November 28 – December 4, 2010
“Interpreting Dreams and the Meanings of Our Lives”
by Elihu Gevirtz, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student
The Torah tells us in Paresha Miketz that Pharaoh dreamed two dreams, and the next morning “his spirit was agitated” for he ached, knowing that the dreams held a message that he did not understand. He sent for all of the magicians and all of the wise men in Egypt, but none could interpret them. Joseph had spent years in jail in the dungeon beneath the palace and was not known to Pharaoh. But Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was brought to the Pharaoh’s attention only as a result of teshuvah done by the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer who confessed that he had failed to return the kindness that Joseph had shown him two years earlier (Genesis 40:9-15).
Immediately, Pharaoh summoned Joseph from the dungeon into the light in the royal court and said to him: “I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.” The Mei HaShiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza) teaches “this means that all the matters of this world are like a dream that needs interpretation.” He observes that the Hebrew word for bread (lechem) is composed of the same letters of the word for dream (chalom), suggesting that just as we must interpret our dreams, we must also interpret the bread in our lives – that which sustains us and gives us nourishment and satisfaction. We must examine our lives and the ways in which we are nourished, and we must strive to speak and act in ways consistent with the virtues of love, justice, truth, and beauty (among others). These are things that give meaning to our lives. What teshuvah, years in the making yet still left undone, will bring clarity to the surface just as Joseph was brought to the surface?
Joseph explains to Pharaoh that his two dreams are really the same dream – the same message given by G-d to Pharaoh. Perhaps Pharaoh’s dreams are also a message for each of us. We will have times in our lives in which a spiritual practice seems unnecessary for there is great abundance and it feels as if the Divine Presence is with us wherever we go; and then we will have times of emotional and physical famine and spiritual exhaustion, in which G-d feels so far away that answered prayers seem impossible.
Joseph tells Pharaoh to find someone who has the qualities of discernment and wisdom (navon ve-chacham) who will preside over the land in its fullness and in its emptiness, gathering and storing grain for the lean years ahead. So it is with us. In our daily prayers, we ask G-d to grant us discernment and wisdom. The first of the interior set of blessings within the Amidah says: “Grace us with the knowledge, understanding and discernment that come from you. Blessed are You, Infinite One, who graciously grants knowledge.”
Today, as many of us and many of our neighbors struggle to sustain ourselves economically and spiritually, and as the land of Israel thirsts for winter rains in the midst of a severe drought, we ask that the Holy One bless us and the land of Israel with courage and strength and rain. May our spirits be agitated like Pharaoh’s so that we are motivated to interpret our dreams and our lives and to live lives of virtue. As we say in the Amidah: “Bless this year for us, Holy One our G-d, and all its types of produce for good. Grant dew and rain as a blessing on the face of the earth, and from its goodness satisfy us, blessing our year as the best of years. Blessed are You, Holy One, who blesses the years.”