Parshat Vayeshev: Who leads, who teaches

Did Joseph's dreams actually come to pass? He had two dreams: in the first, his brother's 11 sheaves of grain bow to his sheaf, and in the second the sun, moon and 11 stars bow to him.

parsha vayeshev 88 (photo credit: )
parsha vayeshev 88
(photo credit: )
Parsha: Vayeshev/Hanukkah "Listen now to this dream which I have dreamed." (Genesis 37:6) Did Joseph's dreams actually come to pass? He had two dreams: in the first, his brother's 11 sheaves of grain bow to his sheaf, and in the second the sun, moon and 11 stars bow to him. The format of these dreams and how they unfold is different, however, from the format of other dream sequences in the Joseph stories; with the dreams of the baker, butler and Pharaoh, the elements are interpreted symbolically and the dreams come to pass fairly quickly; in the case of Joseph's own dreams, however, the elements are never actually interpreted, and one can argue that the dreams are never truly realized; the sun and moon, probably Jacob and Rachel, never actually bow down to him. And in the final blessings of Genesis, it is Judah - not Joseph - about whom Jacob says: "To you shall your brothers give homage... the scepter shall not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:8,10). Why does the Bible need two dreams, each with different symbols, to tell the story of Joseph's domination of his family? And in a similar vein, why do we need the festival of Hanukka (which falls around the time these Torah portions are read) with its two miracles surrounding the same war - the military victory of the few against the many, and the small cruse of oil, sufficient for only one day, which lasted for eight? What need was there for the second miracle? Rabbi Elhanan Samet explains that the Hebrew word hishtahavaya, usually translated as "bowing down," does not connote obeisance or acceptance of another's domination as much as it indicates dependency; this is the biblical meaning of Abraham's hishtahavaya before the Hittites whom he had to ask for a burial place for Sarah (Genesis 23:7), as well as Jacob's hishtahavaya at the head of the bed, expressing his dependency on Joseph for burial in Canaan (Genesis 47:31). From this perspective, explains Samet, the brothers were certainly dependent on Joseph for their physical survival in the face of the world-wide famine (hence the hishtahavaya of their sheaves to his); and they were also dependent on him for their spiritual survival once they arrived in Egypt. Had they not been enabled to live in a "Jewish" community in Goshen - replete with a yeshiva (talmudic academy) established in advance by Judah (Genesis 46:28, Rashi ad loc) and free to pursue their ancestral occupation of sheepherding which left much time for meditation, prayer and the transmission of tradition from parent to child - they may well have assimilated into the idolatrous lifestyle of Egyptian society. Indeed, the carrying of Jacob and Rachel's covenant into the following generations was directly dependent on the cultural milieu Joseph established for his family in Egypt. Similarly, the first miracle of the Hasmonean victory assured the physical survival of the Judean Commonwealth in Israel; the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days reflected the spiritual victory of Judaism over Hellenism, as the Bible teaches: "For the candle is commandment, and the Torah is light" - the very message of the Hanukka menora. From this perspective, both dreams were necessary and both were realized, and the two Hanukka miracles complement each other in a similar manner. I would venture to add an additional dimension to this interpretation. Joseph's two dreams represent his two most dominant skills: his ability to be successful materially and professionally; his sheaves dominate those of his siblings and his success as Grand Vizier overshadows theirs. Similarly, Joseph extended the "family of Abraham" from the land of Canaan into the world-power Egypt. This came about as a result of his God-given charisma, his considerable intellectual and political acumen, and his moral probity. This is also a necessary stage in the fulfillment of the Divine promise to Abraham: "Through you shall be blessed all the families of the earth," and sets the stage for the ultimate accomplishment of our mission to "perfect the world in the Kingship of the Divine." But the brother who will eventually bring about universal acceptance of Israel's spiritual mission, who will disseminate the Torah of Zion and teach the world the message of a God of justice, compassion and peace, will be Judah and not Joseph. Joseph will succeed materially, and will bring Israel to a position of respect in the community of nations, but Judah, the brother who represents Torah, will be the progenitor of King Messiah, world peace and redemption. I believe that Joseph's dreams are incomplete - indeed, they have everyone bowing to him rather than to God - and are therefore never biblically explained or truly realized outside Egypt. Israel's ultimate achievement awaits a descendant of Judah. Similarly, the successful battle of Judea against Greek-Syrians remains incomplete unless all kindle the light of the menora; even the miracle of lights is incomplete until the menora illuminates not only the Temple in Jerusalem but also the civilization of the world! The writer is the founder and chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs, and chief rabbi of Efrat.