Parshat Miketz 370.
(photo credit: Painting by Yoram Raanan; www.yoramraanan.com)
“And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down before him, with their faces to the
ground… And Joseph remembered the dreams that he had dreamt about them and he
said to them, ‘you are spies’” (Genesis 42:6, 9)
One of the most fascinating aspects of the portions we are reading is the extent
to which our towering personalities are driven, even obsessed by their dreams.
To what extent is it the dream, and not the individual’s merits and actions,
which determines the recipient of the familial leadership legacy? We shall
investigate these issues, but first let me explore the dreams of Joseph, the
most prolific biblical dreamer.
Joseph’s dreams invited envy – and even
hatred unto death – in the hearts of his brothers. Why? Certainly sibling
rivalry is a most observable phenomenon, but, it is difficult to understand the
intense venom felt amongst the great grandchildren of Abraham, the future Twelve
Tribes of Israel, towards this most beloved son of their father.
remember that our dreams reveal our innermost and often subconscious thoughts,
fears and ambitions, then we can unravel the code. The classical Jewish dream
was that of Joseph’s father, Jacob, a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth,
ascending and descending angels between the earthly and heavenly domains, with
God at the top of the ladder promising Jacob Divine protection. Israel is a land
on Earth which merits God’s care from the beginning of year until year end, and
the Holy Temple is slated to become the earthly abode for the Divine Presence.
The Holy Land and the Holy Temple express Jacob’s dream of uniting Heaven and
Joseph too dreamed of those same elements, the below and the
above, sheaves of wheat and heavenly bodies. But in Joseph’s dreams, they are
Each has its separate dream. Moreover, Jacob dreams of
Divine assurances that he will return safely to Israel, whereas Joseph dreams of
agricultural produce, a form of productivity, indeed, a profession invented in
Egypt, the unwholesome and powerful “gift of the Nile.”
Worst of all,
while at the center of Jacob’s dream stands God, Joseph himself is the center of
his own dreams, as he wields mastery over the earthly as well as the spiritual,
with both Earth and Heaven bowing down to him! If the striped, colored cloak
expressed the bestowal of the familial leadership upon Joseph, then the brothers
were convinced that their father Jacob had made a tragically wrong choice.
Joseph was a “megalomaniac” who hankered after Egypt instead of Israel;
narcissistically worshiping himself instead of God. They hated with the
righteous hatred of children who see their ancestral religion of compassionate
righteousness and moral justice being hijacked in favor of Egyptian
Just as Esau had been ejected from the family, so too must Joseph
be ejected, if the vision of Abraham is to endure and eventually prevail in
Joseph is blithely unaware of the complex
interpretation his brothers give his dreams; he merely sees himself as achieving
economic, earthly mastery as well as spiritual, heavenly domination over his
siblings, the two areas of control which Jacob had wrested from Isaac: the
physical blessings and the spiritual “firstbornship.”
It was this faith
in the ultimate realization of his two dreams which fortified him to overcome
all of the setbacks he suffered after he was sold into Egypt.
return to our portion. When Joseph saw his brothers bowing before him in order
to purchase grain (Genesis 42:6), he believed that his first dream of economic
and political power had been realized. But what he really desired was the
spiritual leadership, the essence of the “firstbornship,” the universal
assemblage of all the nations under the sovereignty of God, with him – Joseph –
being the earthly king of Israel.
Hence, when “Joseph remembered his
dreams” and prepared for their realization, he said to his brothers “you are
spies” and insisted that they return with his beloved full brother, Benjamin. He
wrongly calculated that the old father would not send Benjamin alone, but would
opt to accompany him. Then Jacob, too, would bow down to the “Grand Vizier” and
the second dream too would be realized.
Alas, Jacob does not go down to
Egypt at this point, and Joseph never achieves spiritual mastery over
Perhaps it is because Jacob does not bow before him and so his
second dream is never fulfilled; perhaps because Jacob decides to separate the
material blessing from the spiritual birthright because he still feels guilty
about the deception Rebekah convinced him to enact; perhaps because despite the
fact that he repents, he wasn’t worthy.
You will remember that when
Joseph stands before Pharaoh to interpret his dream, he insists that it is not
his wisdom, but God who will interpret the dreams for the well-being of Pharaoh.
He likewise recognizes the importance of the Land of Israel when, with his very
last breath, he asks to be buried there. Nevertheless, Joseph invested most of
his most productive years on behalf of Egypt and the Egyptians rather than on
behalf of Israel and the Israelites. He also enslaved the Egyptians to Pharaoh
for economic reasons, which was hardly the legacy of Abraham’s “compassionate
Ultimately, it seems that worthiness and not “dreaminess”
is the deciding factor for the future Jewish leadership.Shabbat shalom
The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and
graduate programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.