Miketz 5761 – Gilayon #167

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat

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Parshat Miketz

'And Pharaoh dreamt': Doesn't everyone dream? A puzzlement!?

But, a king's dream is the dream of the entire world. (Bereishit Rabba, 89)

Rabbi Yochanan said: The wicked exist on their gods, 'Pharaoh dreamt: here, he was standing on the Nile,' but the righteous – their gods exist on them, as is written, 'Behold, God is standing upon him and He said: I am God, Lord of Avraham.'

(Bereishit Rabba 69)

At first it would seem that both Pharaoh and Yaakov, who represent in the midrash the wicked and the righteous, are both cognizant of man's standing before God, and both even worship Him. But there is a deep difference between the religiosity of the sinner and that of the tzaddik. In wicked Pharaoh's view, God is an instrument, a means for advancement of his interest, his standing and existence. The meaning of his faith is that his gods provide for his existence, that is to say, God exists for Man. The mythological concept "gods of Egypt', refers to the Nile which supports Egypt, and therefore Pharaoh sees himself as 'standing on the Nile'; And why does he bow to the Nile as a god? Because this god supplies all his needs, serving him, the sovereign over the mighty Egyptian empire, making existence possible. Pharaoh serves his gods because his gods serve him. His religious belief is expressed by his rising in the morning, thanking his god for what he did on his behalf, and hoping that his god will continue to act on his behalf.

The righteous person is the opposite, he does not ask that his god support him and provide his needs. He accepts upon himself to serve his god. In this sense it can be said that the tzaddik carries his god . . . his god exists on him.

(Prof. Leibovitz, Seven Years of Discussions on the Weekly Parasha, p.156)



A lamp to the memory of my dear parents

Natan ben Yisrael Yaakov and Shoshana Leiser,

and Miriam bat Pinchas and Chana Leiser z"l

who dreamt about Zion, were not privileged

t o live there, but were granted burial in her soil.



Pinchas Leiser

Prof. Yeshaayahu Leibowitz, z"l, suggests that the Book of Bereishit deserves to be called "The Book of Dreams", because of the many dreams recorded in it. As such, it is "a book of the realities which are beyond the consciousness of awake man;" the world following the giving of the Torah is "the world of rational consciousness." (Leibowitz, ibid. p. 152).

Study of the "Guide for the Perplexed" (Book II, 36:40-41) reveals that – according to the Rambam – even when the Torah does not explicitly report a dream, every meeting of man with an angel is a dream bearing prophetic significance.

The Talmud (Bavli, Berachot 55-57) discusses at length the meaning of dreams, providing a long and variegated list of interpretations of dream symbols.

The most radical statement on the subject is: "All dreams follow speech". This is actualized by the following remarkable story:

"Rabbi Bizna bar Zavda said in the name of Rabbi Akiva, who said in the name of Rabbi Panda, who quoted Rav Nahum who reported that Rabbi Birim said in the name of elder sage – Rabbi Benaa: Twenty four dream interpreters were in Yerushalyim. Once I dreamt a dream and I consulted with all of them, and the interpretation of one was unlike the interpretation of the other, yet each one was fulfilled, bearing out the saying, "All dreams follow speech." (Bavli, Berachot 65b).

Paradoxically, this maxim implies that man totally controls the meaning which he attributes to his dreams. He even has the possibility of assigning one dream multiple – and even contradictory – meanings. In other words, the dream does not have a single absolute meaning, but the dreamer may decide what significance he attaches to his dream.

At first blush, it would seem the Bible relates to dreams differently, at least in our parasha, and if we assume that the dream has prophetic value (as Yosef says to Pharaoh: 'That which God does he has revealed to Pharaoh') – it is difficult to allow man the freedom to interpret the dream.

Scrutiny of the different parts of Pharaoh's dream as they appear in our parasha make it possible to examine things differently.

The story has a number of stages:

    1. The Torah tells us about Pharaoh's dream (41:1-7)

    2. Pharaoh wakes up, is disturbed by his dream ('his spirit was agitated')

    3. He relates his dream to Egypt's magicians and wise men.

    4. The magicians suggest interpretations of his dream.

    5. 'But no one could interpret them to Pharaoh.' None of the interpretations appeals to Pharaoh.

    6. On the recommendation of the chief cupbearer, Pharaoh orders Yosef's release so that he can interpret his dream.

    7. Pharaoh describes his dream to Yosef, and the Torah, in minute detail, relates Pharaoh's version of the dream. (Bible commentators have pointed out certain differences between the objective description of the dream in verses 1-7, and the dream as reported by Pharaoh).

    8. Yosef interprets the dream for Pharaoh, relating to each of its components.

    9. Yosef advises Pharaoh in light of the dream (33-36).

J. Pharaoh expresses satisfaction with Yosef's interpretation and the subsequent advice, and appoints Yosef his second-in-rank, to implement his recommended program.

It seems to me that by relating the entire story, at length, with all details and stages, the Torah wants to show us how, at each stage, a different scenario could have developed.

Pharaoh could have adopted an alternate position which appears in the Talmud: "Dreams tell nothing", giving his dreams no importance.

Another possibility would have been to assign the dream substance, but to 'improve' it by sundry incantations.

He could have accepted one of the interpretations provided by the magicians. Our Sages 'completed' the Biblical story by adding details to the magicians' interpretations. (See Rashi, 41:8, as per Bereishit Rabba 89). Pharaoh chooses not to ignore the dream; he does not seek to 'improve' the dream, to impart it meaning to his liking. Nor does he adopt the interpretations offered by Egypt's magicians. He chooses to call for Yosef, to repeat the dream for him, to listen to his interpretation and suggestions, accepting both.

This Pharaoh trusts Yosef. He understands what really happened between him and Potiphar's wife. This is the Pharaoh 'who knew Yosef', unlike the 'new king' who 'had not known Yosef' who appears at the opening of the Book of Shemot. It makes no difference whether the latter was really a new king who had not known, or one who promulgated new decrees, and did not want to know.

Each of the alternatives would have created a different narrative, with different significance. It seems, therefore, that this particular narrative, which includes all the ingredients of the scenario described above, supports the approach that "All dreams follow speech."

Pharaoh's dream does not appear in a vacuum; nothing is unrelated. Pharaoh, responsible for the welfare of Egypt's inhabitants, dreams "a king's dream.' He is disturbed, and therefore, his heart's thoughts, which he does not completely comprehend, appear to him in an unsolved dream.

He cannot ignore – or more accurately – he chooses not to ignore the unease which he experiences, even though he does not entirely understand his feelings. Some of the magicians actually sense his concern ('seven daughters will you beget and seven daughters will you bury'), but interprets his distress as a personal distress. This finds no echo is Pharaoh's heart (in the words of the Torah "there was none to interpret them for Pharaoh", and, in the words of Rashi: 'Their voice did not enter his ears.")

It is possible that Pharaoh sensed (knowledge beyond wakefulness and consciousness, in Leibowitz's words) that he must free Yosef in order to find a solution for his distress. Perhaps it is necessary to correct the wrong done to Yosef by the entire Egyptian system before Pharaoh can find relief to his distress and that of the Egyptian people.

Only then, when they 'brought him out of the pit', could Pharaoh tell Yosef his dream with a true feeling of concern for the distress of the Egyptian people, with anxiety for its future and its exist. Only then could Yosef listen to the dream, connect to its deep roots, and reveal its prophetic significance, so that Pharaoh could eventually adopt the interpretation and act accordingly.

Prophecy, like a dream, does not occur in a vacuum; there are prerequisite conditions which make it possible. And even after the opportunity has been presented, can man decide how to understand it, and what use to make of it.

Prophecy, the openness to a tie with the divine and the possibility of hearing these messages, demands first and foremost the righting of injustice perpetrated against people, like the stranger and the powerless who cannot afford high-class lawyers, like Yosef, "a Hebrew lad there with us, a servant of the chief of the guard." The release of Yosef, the dreamer, makes it possible for Pharaoh to listen to the profound and prophetic meaning of his dream, and to connect to his people's distress.

Perhaps the Torah is teaching us here that in order to connect with deep spiritual meaning, a person, a leader, must develop sensitivity to the weak, to the outsider — so that the weak and the outsider can listen to his dreams and interpret them for him, so that he may detect in them the prophetic significance which derives from true concern for the future of his people. It may be that this situation of real listening is the place where dreams can meet without clashing.

Pinchas Leiser, Editor of "Shabbat Shalom", is a psychologist.



Yosef's Attitude Towards His Brothers

And so do I say that all this happened to Yosef as a result of his wisdom in interpreting dreams. One must wonder, then, how is it that after Yosef lived for years in Egypt, and was an official and supervisor in the house of a high Egyptian minister, why did he not write a single letter to his father to tell him and console him, for Egypt is only six days distant from Hebron, and even if it were a year away it would have been proper to inform his respected father. . . . but he understood that that the bowing of his brothers and his father and all his seed could not be realized in their land. He hoped that it would happen in Egypt when he saw his great success there, and certainly after he heard Pharaoh's dream and it became clear that all would come there, and that all his dreams would be realized. (Ramban, Bereishit 42:9)

I am astounded at what the Ramban wrote, that Yosef acted in order to realize his dreams, for what benefit would their realization bring? And even were there some advantage to be gained, he should not have sinned against his father.

And the dreams – he who sends the dreams, provides their interpretation. There seems to be great folly in attempting to realize one's dreams, for these are things which are accomplished without the dreamer's knowledge!

(Akeidat Yitzhak, quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz, in "Studies of the Weekly Parasha")

Therefore a different approach seems preferable. This one, too, is offered by Ramban himself and by other commentators: A great guilt lay on the House of Yaakov, on his ten sons, a great sin which had to be atoned for. How can they atone for this sin, for all the sorrow they caused their brother, and how can they again, brothers united, become the House of Yaakov, the chosen seed? And if you say: "The gates of repentance are never closed", let them repent and their sin will be washed away.

To this we say: A person must undergo the very same test which he failed before– in identical circumstances – to determine whether or not this time he will pass.

(Studies in Sefer Bereishit, p. 327-328)

The question remains – do we have here an explanation of the "historic justice" of Divine providence, or are these words offered in justification of Yosef's behavior towards his brothers (including Binyamin) and his father.

(The Editor)




. Editorial Board: Pinchas Leiser (Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein

Translation: Kadish Goldberg

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