Miketz: Dreams and Consequences

Joseph’s imprisonment finally ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of hunger, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph governor of Egypt. Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of Potiphar, and they have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Famine spreads throughout the region, and food can be obtained only in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain; the youngest, Benjamin, stays home, for Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him; he accuses them of being spies, insists that they bring Benjamin to prove that they are who they say they are, and imprisons Simeon as a hostage.

from The Parasha in a Nutshell
Mikeitz: Genesis 41:1-44:17
Chabad.org

A significant part of our parshah (Mikeitz-Genesis 41:1–44:17) is taken up with a pair of dreams dreamt by the king of Egypt. These dreams are actually recounted not once, but three times: first we read an account of the dreams themselves; then comes a more detailed version, as we hear them described by Pharaoh to Joseph; and then comes Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh, in which he offers his interpretation of the dreams’ various components.

And these are but the last in a sequence of dreams detailed by the Torah in the preceding chapters. Joseph is in Pharaoh’s palace interpreting his dreams because of another set of dreams, dreamt two years earlier in an Egyptian prison. Back then, Joseph was incarcerated together with two of Pharaoh’s ministers, each of whom had a dream which Joseph successfully interpreted.

“The Cosmic Fantasy”
From the Chasidic Masters
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Chabad.org

We see that the first of Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:5-11), though long in coming to fruition, are now rapidly taking shape. Though scorned, hated, almost murdered, and finally sold into slavery because of these dreams, they were nevertheless dreams from God. The only reason those dreams were perceived as a reason to hate Joseph was because of Joseph’s teenage arrogance. Now look at him. Older, wiser, shrewder. After all, when Joseph was finally “remembered” and taken into the presence of Pharoah, King of Egypt at the beginning of Torah Portion Miketz, don’t you think he knew exactly what he was doing?

“Accordingly, let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt. And let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered, and let the grain be collected under Pharaoh’s authority as food to be stored in the cities. Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish in the famine.”

The plan pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers. And Pharaoh said to his courtiers, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is none so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.” And removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, and they cried before him, “Abrek!” Thus he placed him over all the land of Egypt. –Genesis 41:33-43 (JPS Tanakh)

I call Joseph “shrewd” but please remember, that isn’t necessarily a poor trait to have when in “enemy territory”.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. –Matthew 10:16-20

Returning to the Torah portion, I’m not saying that Joseph is being entirely self-serving here. After all, he spent years as a slave and more years as a prisoner (though in fairly exalted roles for each position) and that time served to teach the young dreamer humility, but who could blame him for wanting to “butter his bread” a little? Who wouldn’t want to get out of prison? Besides, it’s not like Joseph used his appointment as Viceroy to take advantage of others. Joseph didn’t even retaliate against the chief cupbearer who promised to remember Joseph to Pharaoh after Joseph had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream in his advantage, but who then “forgot” him completely for two years.

Although we see Joseph certainly “challenging” his brothers in this week’s Torah portion as well as in next week’s Parashah, he isn’t “taking revenge” upon them. He could have chosen to have them killed, or make them slaves, or have them rot in prison, yet he refrains.

Joseph’s first dream comes to realization in this week’s parsha. His brothers come down to Egypt and prostrate themselves before him. The dream of the sheaves of the brothers bowing to Joseph’s sheaf is at last fulfilled. But strangely, Joseph does not feel himself satisfied. It is human nature that the expectation of the realization of events is always greater and more exciting than the fulfillment of the realization itself. No vacation or event that we plan for ourselves can live up to our imagination and expectation regarding it. And Joseph is further burdened by the enormity of what has transpired. He has the brothers, who sold him as a slave and were deaf to his shouts and tears and pleas for mercy, in his hands. But what is he to do with them now? And what of his beloved father, the old man, broken in grief, whom he has not seen or communicated with for twenty-two years? Are the brothers telling him the truth about his father’s condition? And what about Benjamin, his younger brother? Is he like the other brothers in attitude and belief or is he different? Does he mourn for his lost brother Joseph or is he sanguine about his fate, as his ten older brothers seem to be? All of these questions plague Joseph at the moment of his seemingly great triumph when his brothers are in his power and abjectly bow before him. His triumph therefore seems somewhat hollow to him at that moment.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Vengeance vs. Conciliations”
Commentary on Parashas Miketz
Torah.org

If, as Rabbi Wein suggests, the realization of Joseph’s earlier dreams seems all too hollow, what about our dreams?

I’m not saying that the typical dreams we all experience during sleep are prophesies from God, nor do I believe that the vast majority of people have any Divine gift to interpret prophetic dreams as Joseph certainly did, but when I say “our dreams,” I really mean “our ambitions.” What about the things we want? If we get them, how wisely is our stewardship over them?

In a sense, the 17-year old Joseph’s boasts about this first dreams were acts of “poor stewardship”. He utilized his knowledge to “lord it over” his brothers and father and the result was a wreaked life for Joseph, Jacob, and ultimately (though they didn’t realize it at the time) for all of Joseph’s brothers. When Joseph stood before Pharaoh, we can say that he exercised “good stewardship” of his ability to interpret dreams, which resulted in him not only being released from prison, but being placed in an extremely high position of authority over Egypt. This gave him the unprecedented ability to save everyone in Egypt, Canaan, and the rest of the civilized world, including his entire family, from a seven-year famine.

How we manage our “dreams” and ambitions makes a difference, too. Most of us don’t exercise authority to the same scope as Joseph, but what we want, even if benign and charitable, can have dramatically different results depending on our attitude, intent, and execution. Judaism has the concept of kavanah which generally means “intention”. In Kabbalah, kavanah modifies the sefirot allowing them to be directed, and depending on that direction, a person’s activities, both in the world we experience and in the spiritual realms, can have wildly different consequences. How dreams are managed in Joseph’s early life vs. his later experiences is dramatic proof of this statement.

If the teachings of Kabbalah and Talmudic Judaism are a little difficult for you to swallow, Jesus told many parables on good and bad stewardship including Luke 12:35-48 and Luke 16:1-15 that tell the same story. I think “The Parable of the Talents”, is particularly illuminating.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ –Matthew 25:14-30

It’s not just what you’re given, but what you do with it that matters. What you do with your resources depends on your character and your intentions. As we see from the example of Joseph, even what you are given depends on how you have managed other, lesser jobs. That’s also the lesson taught by Jesus in his parables. One who was responsible for a lesser task will be given much greater authority. Imagine that, once you were saved, you never told anyone else about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but instead, horded this treasure for yourself?

So when you dream, it’s not so much whether you dream big or small that is the key factor. It’s what you do with your dreams and how you treat other people when your dreams come true. For if you manage well when one dream comes true, much bigger dreams will also be granted you. However keep in mind that such responsibility can come at a price as Rabbi Wein’s commentary points out.

Joseph comes to the great realization that his ultimate triumph over his brothers lies not in punishing them – though he will certainly cause them great anguish on their road of repentance – but rather to eventually conciliate them. Vengeance is momentarily more satisfying than is conciliation. But in the long run, vengeance lies not in human hands. And it will only continue to widen the rift within Jacob’s family. Joseph’s greatness and heroism lies in the fact that he chose the road of healing and conciliation rather than that of punishment and vengeance. Joseph, out of all of the avot and the brothers is called tzadik – righteous and holy. This is certainly due to his behavior in escaping from the clutches of Potiphar’s wife. But Joseph’s righteousness and piety is exhibited not only in that incident. It is apparent in his treatment of his brothers after his dream of their bowing down to him has been realized. He will protect his brothers from the Pharaoh and the ravages of Egyptian society. He will support them physically, financially and spiritually for the rest of his life. He still weeps at the gulf of suspicion that yet exists between him and the brothers. Conciliation is a long and difficult road to traverse. But Joseph realizes that it is the only hope for his family’s continuity and purpose.

Being wise stewards, we should use our gifts to repair relationships rather than destroy them. When we reconcile with even one person who was formerly estranged from us, we also reconcile them and ourselves with God.

Good Shabbos.

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