Saturday, December 12, 2009

Parshat Miketz 5770 - Dreams

Parshat Miketz 5770
Rabbi Ari Kahn

Dream, Dream, Dream,… Dream

The First Two Dreams
Paroh has a dream. He is frightened and agitated, yet not one of his advisors can interpret his dream:

בראשית פרק מא
וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר וַתִּפָּעֶם רוּחוֹ וַיִּשְׁלַח וַיִּקְרָא אֶת כָּל חַרְטֻמֵּי מִצְרַיִם וְאֶת כָּל חֲכָמֶיהָ וַיְסַפֵּר פַּרְעֹה לָהֶם אֶת חֲלֹמוֹ וְאֵין פּוֹתֵר אוֹתָם לְפַרְעֹה:
And it came to pass in the morning that his spirit was troubled; and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men; and Paroh told them his dream; but there was none who could interpret them to Paroh. Bereishit 41:8

Why was this dream so troubling to Paroh? It seems to speak of produce and agriculture, subjects that would occupy a monarch's mind for a significant part of his working day; it should come as no surprise when these elements bubbled to the surface while he slumbered.

בראשית פרק מא
(א) וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁנָתַיִם יָמִים וּפַרְעֹה חֹלֵם וְהִנֵּה עֹמֵד עַל הַיְאֹר: (ב) וְהִנֵּה מִן הַיְאֹר עֹלֹת שֶׁבַע פָּרוֹת יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה וּבְרִיאֹת בָּשָׂר וַתִּרְעֶינָה בָּאָחוּ: (ג) וְהִנֵּה שֶׁבַע פָּרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת עֹלוֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶן מִן הַיְאֹר רָעוֹת מַרְאֶה וְדַקּוֹת בָּשָׂר וַתַּעֲמֹדְנָה אֵצֶל הַפָּרוֹת עַל שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר: (ד) וַתֹּאכַלְנָה הַפָּרוֹת רָעוֹת הַמַּרְאֶה וְדַקֹּת הַבָּשָׂר אֵת שֶׁבַע הַפָּרוֹת יְפֹת הַמַּרְאֶה וְהַבְּרִיאֹת וַיִּיקַץ פַּרְעֹה: (ה) וַיִּישָׁן וַיַּחֲלֹם שֵׁנִית וְהִנֵּה שֶׁבַע שִׁבֳּלִים עֹלוֹת בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד בְּרִיאוֹת וְטֹבוֹת: (ו) וְהִנֵּה שֶׁבַע שִׁבֳּלִים דַּקּוֹת וּשְׁדוּפֹת קָדִים צֹמְחוֹת אַחֲרֵיהֶן: (ז) וַתִּבְלַעְנָה הַשִּׁבֳּלִים הַדַּקּוֹת אֵת שֶׁבַע הַשִּׁבֳּלִים הַבְּרִיאוֹת וְהַמְּלֵאוֹת וַיִּיקַץ פַּרְעֹה וְהִנֵּה חֲלוֹם:
And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Paroh dreamed; and, behold, he stood by the river. And, behold, there came up from the river seven cows sleek and fat; and they fed in the reed grass.  And, behold, seven other cows came up after them from the river, gaunt and thin; and stood by the other cows upon the brink of the river. And the gaunt and thin cows consumed the seven sleek and fat cows. And Paroh awoke. And he slept and dreamed the second time; and, behold, seven ears of grain came up as one stalk, plump and good. And, behold, seven thin ears, blasted by the east wind, sprung up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven plump and full ears. And Paroh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. Bereishit 41:1-7

Paroh's dreams do not seem overly difficult to understand.  It seems strange that all the wise men of Egypt could not muster any suggestion or interpretation which would satisfy Paroh. In order to understand the source of their difficulty, let us consider the dreams through Egyptian eyes.

Paroh has two dreams which are similar, one focused on cows and the other on stalks of grain. To the modern reader these seem like innocuous, healthy symbols of a time and place where man was more connected to the land and nature: These are the basic symbols of the woop and warf of agricultural life, of the farmer and the shepherd. Yet the Egyptians may have viewed these symbols in a very different fashion. Yosef actually points out to the cultural divergence when, years later, he prepares his brothers for their meeting with Paroh:

ספר בראשית פרק מו, לא-לד
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו וְאֶל בֵּית אָבִיו אֶעֱלֶה וְאַגִּידָה לְפַרְעֹה וְאֹמְרָה אֵלָיו אַחַי וּבֵית אָבִי אֲשֶׁר בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בָּאוּ אֵלָי: וְהָאֲנָשִׁים רֹעֵי צֹאן כִּי אַנְשֵׁי מִקְנֶה הָיוּ וְצֹאנָם וּבְקָרָם וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם הֵבִיאוּ: וְהָיָה כִּי יִקְרָא לָכֶם פַּרְעֹה וְאָמַר מַה מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶם: וַאֲמַרְתֶּם אַנְשֵׁי מִקְנֶה הָיוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ מִנְּעוּרֵינוּ וְעַד עַתָּה גַּם אֲנַחְנוּ גַּם אֲבֹתֵינוּ בַּעֲבוּר תֵּשְׁבוּ בְּאֶרֶץ גּשֶׁן כִּי תוֹעֲבַת מִצְרַיִם כָּל רֹעֵה צֹאן:
And Yosef said to his brothers, and to his father’s house, 'I will go up, and explain to Paroh, and say to him, "My brothers, and my father’s house, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me; And the men are shepherds, for their trade has been to raise cattle; and they have brought their flocks, and their herds, and all that they have." And it shall come to pass, when Paroh shall call you, and shall say, "What is your occupation?", you shall say, "Your servants’ trade has been keeping cattle from our youth until now, both we, and also our fathers;" that you may live in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians. Bereishit 46:31-34

Rashi explains that because the Egyptians regarded animals as deities, they considered it an abomination to herd, domesticate or cultivate flocks or herds.

רש"י על בראשית פרק מו פסוק לד
 כי תועבת מצרים וגו'. לפי שהם להם אלהות:
Is an abomination to the Egyptians – for they were deities for them. Rashi Bereishit 46:34

The Ibn Ezra explains that it is not dissimilar to India in his day: These people worshiped cows and would not eat their meat or drink their milk, hence those who raised cows and ate their meat and milk were shunned by the Egyptians.[1] The Riva goes even further, pointing out that practices necessary for tending flocks were abhorrent to the Egyptians, who could not bear the use of force on their deities.[2]  The B'chor Shor interprets Yosef's comment differently, reading it as a condemnation of Egyptian idolatry: the word 'abomination' refers to the Egyptian deities, and Yosef is passing a value judgment on Egyptian sensibilities and their worship of four-legged creatures.[3]

The word that Yosef uses to describe the clash between Egyptian and Jewish sensibilities is “toeva” ('abomination'), and this same word elsewhere in Yosef's story in another context: When the brothers unknowingly stand before Yosef and are invited to dine with the Prince of Egypt, the Torah describes a strange seating arrangement: the brothers are seated by themselves, Yosef by himself, and the other members of the Egyptian court by themselves:

ספר בראשית פרק מג, לא-לב
וַיִּרְחַץ פָּנָיו וַיֵּצֵא וַיִּתְאַפַּק וַיֹּאמֶר שִׂימוּ לָחֶם: וַיָּשִׂימוּ לוֹ לְבַדּוֹ וְלָהֶם לְבַדָּם וְלַמִּצְרִים הָאֹכְלִים אִתּוֹ לְבַדָּם כִּי לֹא יוּכְלוּן הַמִּצְרִים לֶאֱכֹל אֶת הָעִבְרִים לֶחֶם כִּי תוֹעֵבָה הִוא לְמִצְרָיִם:
And he washed his face, and went out, and controlled himself, and said, 'Set out bread.' And they served him by himself, and for them by themselves, and for the Egyptians who ate with him, by themselves; because the Egyptians would not eat bread with the Hebrews; for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. Bereishit 43:31,32

Some commentaries[4] see this as an indication of the arrogance and haughtiness of the Egyptians, who were not willing to eat with “lowly” strangers, yet this would not explain Yosef's exclusion. Other commentaries refer to the Egyptians' disgust at the profession of these guests; again, this would not explain the exclusion Yosef, a highly respected member of Paroh's court. [5]  It might be possible to apply the same definition of the word toeva to this passage for a better understanding: One could posit that the word here also indicates a deity. The passage should then be interpreted along the lines suggested by the Bchor Shor: "for the Egyptians would not eat bread with the Hebrews, for this was (another) toeva, another idolatrous practice of the Egyptians." Eating bread, certainly publicly, went against Egyptian religious sensibilities.[6] This may provide us with a window into the religious world of Pharaonic Egypt: this was a slave-based society, developed not as a result of great affluence but as an outcome of a religious system that rejected all forms of physical labor. Egypt needed slaves – because the Egyptians themselves rejected the concept of physical labor. The production of bread required arduous work, and the Egyptians may have found all types of work and, by extension, those who were engaged in physical labor, an offense to their religious beliefs.

In this context, the two elements of Paroh’s dream are of great symbolic importance inasmuch as they relate to "idolatrous" practices. Two additional elements of the dreams buttress this thesis: the “river” and Paroh himself. Both of these elements were also perceived as deities - the Nile was seen as the life-force of Egypt, and Paroh, who claimed to be the god of the Nile:

ספר יחזקאל פרק כט, ב-ג
בֶּן אָדָם שִׂים פָּנֶיךָ עַל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וְהִנָּבֵא עָלָיו וְעַל מִצְרַיִם כֻּלָּהּ: דַּבֵּר וְאָמַרְתָּ כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי ה’ הִנְנִי עָלֶיךָ פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם הַתַּנִּים הַגָּדוֹל הָרֹבֵץ בְּתוֹךְ יְאֹרָיו אֲשֶׁר אָמַר לִי יְאֹרִי וַאֲנִי עֲשִׂיתִנִי...
Son of man, set your face against Paroh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt; Speak, and say, Thus says the Almighty God: Behold, I am against you, Paroh king of Egypt, the great crocodile that lies in the midst of his streams, who has said, 'My river is my own, and I have made it for myself.'  Yechezkel 29:2,3

Only when we appreciate that all the elements in the dreams may have been perceived as deities to the Egyptians can we understand the silence of all of Paroh's advisors. They must have perceived in these dreams a foreboding message of a major cataclysm that could shake Egypt to its very core.

These same dreams may be understood in a completely different fashion in light of the ideological and religious worldview represented by biblical symbols. In this context, Paroh's two dreams represent an ancient dichotomy which has persisted from the very first day of man's existence. This may be concisely described as the dichotomy between man's perfect state of existence before the sin and man's post-Eden existence.

Before eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam named the animals. This seems to have been the extent of the “work” with which he is charged:

בראשית פרק ב, טו
וַיִּקַּח ה’אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם וַיַּנִּחֵהוּ בְגַן עֵדֶן לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ:
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. Bereishit 2:15

After the sin, Adam is instructed to work the ground; sustenance, symbolized by bread, would now emerge only when man exerts himself:

בראשית פרק ג, יט
בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה כִּי מִמֶּנָּה לֻקָּחְתָּ כִּי עָפָר אַתָּה וְאֶל עָפָר תָּשׁוּב:
In the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread, till you return to the ground; for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust shall you return. Bereishit 3:19

This same dichotomy is evident in the different orientations toward work in the next generation:[7]

בראשית פרק ד, ג-ד
וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ יָמִים וַיָּבֵא קַיִן מִפְּרִי הָאֲדָמָה מִנְחָה לַה’: וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ וּמֵחֶלְבֵהֶן וַיִּשַׁע ה’ אֶל הֶבֶל וְאֶל מִנְחָתוֹ:
And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Almighty. And Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it. And the Almighty harkened to Abel and to his offering; Bereishit 4:3-4

Cain and Hevel take different paths in their pursuit of God's Will, and these paths are expressed by their vocations. These enduring symbols of mankind's relationship to nature and to our place in the post-Eden reality were surely familiar to Yosef. Clearly Paroh and his advisors did not think in these terms, and Yosef's interpretation of Paroh's dreams ignores the biblical symbolism, while simultaneously steering clear of the minefield of Egyptian deities. The interpretation Yosef puts forth is firmly embedded in economics, in pragmatic planning which will enable Egypt to take advantage of the good years ahead in order to protect itself when the difficult times follow. This is an interpretation that does not threaten Pharoh or the religious system of which he is the apex, and Yosef is immediately catapulted to a position of power that enables him to implement the plan he had outlined.

Two More Dreams
Yosef's pragmatic interpretation of Paroh's dreams must be seen as part and parcel of his interpretation of a previous set of dreams - dreams that actually laid the foundations of his own liberation. As he languished in an Egyptian prison, Yosef interpreted the dreams of two fellow inmates:

בראשית פרק מ, ה-ח
וַיַּחַלְמוּ חֲלוֹם שְׁנֵיהֶם אִישׁ חֲלֹמוֹ בְּלַיְלָה אֶחָד אִישׁ כְּפִתְרוֹן חֲלֹמוֹ הַמַּשְׁקֶה וְהָאֹפֶה אֲשֶׁר לְמֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם אֲשֶׁר אֲסוּרִים בְּבֵית הַסֹּהַר: וַיָּבֹא אֲלֵיהֶם יוֹסֵף בַּבֹּקֶר וַיַּרְא אֹתָם וְהִנָּם זֹעֲפִים: וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת סְרִיסֵי פַרְעֹה אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ בְמִשְׁמַר בֵּית אֲדֹנָיו לֵאמֹר מַדּוּעַ פְּנֵיכֶם רָעִים הַיּוֹם: וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו חֲלוֹם חָלַמְנוּ וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים סַפְּרוּ נָא לִי:
And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the sommelier and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison. And Yosef came to them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked Paroh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, Why do you look so sad today? And they said to him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Yosef said to them, Do interpretations not belong to the Almighty? Tell them to me, I beg you. Bereishit 40:5-8

בראשית פרק מ, ט-כג
וַיְסַפֵּר שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת חֲלֹמוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ בַּחֲלוֹמִי וְהִנֵּה גֶפֶן לְפָנָי: וּבַגֶּפֶן שְׁלֹשָׁה שָׂרִיגִם וְהִיא כְפֹרַחַת עָלְתָה נִצָּהּ הִבְשִׁילוּ אַשְׁכְּלֹתֶיהָ עֲנָבִים: וְכוֹס פַּרְעֹה בְּיָדִי וָאֶקַּח אֶת הָעֲנָבִים וָאֶשְׂחַט אֹתָם אֶל כּוֹס פַּרְעֹה וָאֶתֵּן אֶת הַכּוֹס עַל כַּף פַּרְעֹה: וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ יוֹסֵף זֶה פִּתְרֹנוֹ שְׁלֹשֶׁת הַשָּׂרִגִים שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים הֵם: בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים יִשָּׂא פַרְעֹה אֶת רֹאשֶׁךָ וַהֲשִׁיבְךָ עַל כַּנֶּךָ וְנָתַתָּ כוֹס פַּרְעֹה בְּיָדוֹ כַּמִּשְׁפָּט הָרִאשׁוֹן אֲשֶׁר הָיִיתָ מַשְׁקֵהוּ: כִּי אִם זְכַרְתַּנִי אִתְּךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִיטַב לָךְ וְעָשִׂיתָ נָּא עִמָּדִי חָסֶד וְהִזְכַּרְתַּנִי אֶל פַּרְעֹה וְהוֹצֵאתַנִי מִן הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה:  כִּי גֻנֹּב גֻּנַּבְתִּי מֵאֶרֶץ הָעִבְרִים וְגַם פֹּה לֹא עָשִׂיתִי מְאוּמָה כִּי שָׂמוּ אֹתִי בַּבּוֹר: וַיַּרְא שַׂר הָאֹפִים כִּי טוֹב פָּתָר וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל יוֹסֵף אַף אֲנִי בַּחֲלוֹמִי וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה סַלֵּי חֹרִי עַל רֹאשִׁי:  וּבַסַּל הָעֶלְיוֹן מִכֹּל מַאֲכַל פַּרְעֹה מַעֲשֵׂה אֹפֶה וְהָעוֹף אֹכֵל אֹתָם מִן הַסַּל מֵעַל רֹאשִׁי:  וַיַּעַן יוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר זֶה פִּתְרֹנוֹ שְׁלֹשֶׁת הַסַּלִּים שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים הֵם: בְּעוֹד שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים יִשָּׂא פַרְעֹה אֶת רֹאשְׁךָ מֵעָלֶיךָ וְתָלָה אוֹתְךָ עַל עֵץ וְאָכַל הָעוֹף אֶת בְּשָׂרְךָ מֵעָלֶיךָ: וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת אֶת פַּרְעֹה וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל עֲבָדָיו וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת רֹאשׁ שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים וְאֶת רֹאשׁ שַׂר הָאֹפִים בְּתוֹךְ עֲבָדָיו: וַיָּשֶׁב אֶת שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים עַל מַשְׁקֵהוּ וַיִּתֵּן הַכּוֹס עַל כַּף פַּרְעֹה: וְאֵת שַׂר הָאֹפִים תָּלָה כַּאֲשֶׁר פָּתַר לָהֶם יוֹסֵף: וְלֹא זָכַר שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת יוֹסֵף וַיִּשְׁכָּחֵהוּ:
And the chief sommelier told his dream to Yosef, and said to him, 'In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; And in the vine were three branches; and it was as though it budded, and its blossoms shot forth; and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes; And Paroh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Paroh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Paroh’s hand.' And Yosef said to him, 'This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days, and within three days shall Paroh lift up your head, and restore you to your place; and you shall deliver Paroh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when you were in his service. But think of me when it shall be well with you, and  show kindness, I beg you, to me, and make mention of me to Paroh, and bring me out of this house; for indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and here also have I done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon.' When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Yosef, 'I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head; And in the uppermost basket there were all kinds of baked food for Paroh; and the birds ate them out of the basket upon my head.' And Yosef answered and said, 'This is the interpretation: The three baskets are three days, and within three days shall Paroh lift up your head off you, and shall hang you on a tree; and the birds shall eat your flesh off you.' And it came to pass the third day, which was Paroh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief sommelier and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief sommelier to his stewardship again; and he gave the cup into Paroh’s hand; But he hanged the chief baker, as Yosef had interpreted to them. Yet the chief sommelier did not remember Yosef, and forgot him. Bereishit 40:9-23

These dreams contain symbols of the dichotomy we have discussed: The baker is actively involved in the process of making bread. The deeper connection with the post-Eden state of mankind, as well as the thematic connection with Paroh's dream, should not be overlooked. The wine steward, who is entrusted to discern good wine from bad, represents a major element of the sin committed in the Garden of Eden: according to many commentaries, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was none other than a grape vine, whose fruit causes confusion.[8] The wine steward's job, then, is a delicate one: he must, in his way, unravel the confusion of man's first sin. The baker, on the other hand, performs his task by adhering to the rules of engagement in a post-sin world in which bread is brought forth by the sweat of man's brow. While both wine and bread are the results of a long process of fermentation which produce a finished product that is a vast improvement over the raw materials used to create it, Yosef sees only one of these processes carrying through to a successful finish: The sommelier will be returned to his former glory, which is analogous to a world before sin, before confusion. The baker's death seems to indicate a far weaker commitment to the post-Eden experience: Paroh has no interest in perpetuating 'bread', takes no responsibility for a world of work, of patient toil, and of death. These are left for the Egyptians' slaves to contend with, and it should come as no surprise that the Egyptian economic system eventually becomes dependent on slave labor. As a living representation of the human condition after the sin, the baker is doomed. He, his profession – and what that profession symbolizes – are an abomination to Egyptian theology, just as the Hebrew shepherds would be.

For Yosef, bread was also a troubling symbol. The Torah stresses that his brothers sat down "to eat bread" after they cast him into the pit. Later, 'bread' helped land him in prison: When he starts he career in the house of Potifar, we are told that Yosef is entrusted with all of his master's possessions – save one:

ספר בראשית פרק לט
(ו) וַיַּעֲזֹב כָּל אֲשֶׁר לוֹ בְּיַד יוֹסֵף וְלֹא יָדַע אִתּוֹ מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר הוּא אוֹכֵל
And he left all that he had in Yosef’s hand; and he knew not what he had, save for the bread which he ate... Bereishit 39:6

Later, this statement is clarified: When his master’s wife tries to seduce Yosef, the "bread" is a symbol of something far more personal:

ספר בראשית פרק לט, ח-ט
וַיְמָאֵן וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל אֵשֶׁת אֲדֹנָיו הֵן אֲדֹנִי לֹא יָדַע אִתִּי מַה בַּבָּיִת וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ לוֹ נָתַן בְּיָדִי:
אֵינֶנּוּ גָדוֹל בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה מִמֶּנִּי וְלֹא חָשַׂךְ מִמֶּנִּי מְאוּמָה כִּי אִם אוֹתָךְ בַּאֲשֶׁר אַתְּ אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֵיךְ אֶעֱשֶׂה הָרָעָה הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת וְחָטָאתִי לֵאלֹהִים:
But he refused, and said to his master’s wife, 'Behold, my master knows not what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? Bereishit 39:8,9

The one thing that was off limits to Yosef, earlier described as 'bread', was, in fact, Mrs. Potiphar. Yosef was accused of "eating another man's 'bread' ”, and he was thrown into the pit once again. Once again, Yosef had not, in fact, partaken of the bread. He alone among the brothers did not eat bread when he was in the pit, and he remained a Zaddik in the house of Potiphar, despite the temptation to partake of the "feast". We may go so far as to say that Yosef is a throwback to man's purest state, to a point before the sin in Eden, to a time before man began to eke out his sustenance by the sweat of his brow, before eating from the Tree of Knowledge – before Adam “knew” his wife, before bread replaced knowledge.[9]

Yosef’s Dreams
Yosef's vision remained unclouded, unconfused. He correctly interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, as well as Paroh's dreams, while discerning within them a message that transcended the lives and times of the dreamers of these dreams. When the two former ministers reveal their dreams to him, Yosef's interpretation bears similarities to his interpretation of Paroh’s dreams. In both cases, Yosef understands that God is revealing the future. But Yosef also sees much more. Yosef saw the hand of God touching his own life, and he believed that when God spoke to the staff of Paroh’s palace, there was also a message for him in that communication. He heard within the wine steward's dream a harbinger of his own salvation. He understood from Paroh's dream the reason he had suffered all of the trials and tribulations that brought him to the position of HaMashbir HaGadol, the great sustainer of Egypt and of his own family. Perhaps Yosef connected these two pairs of dreams with yet another pair of dreams: his own dreams, the dreams that caused his brothers to hate him enough to wish him dead.

בראשית פרק לז, ה-יא
וַיַּחֲלֹם יוֹסֵף חֲלוֹם וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶחָיו וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ: וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם שִׁמְעוּ נָא הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתִּי: וְהִנֵּה אֲנַחְנוּ מְאַלְּמִים אֲלֻמִּים בְּתוֹךְ הַשָּׂדֶה וְהִנֵּה קָמָה אֲלֻמָּתִי וְגַם נִצָּבָה וְהִנֵּה תְסֻבֶּינָה אֲלֻמֹּתֵיכֶם וַתִּשְׁתַּחֲוֶיןָ לַאֲלֻמָּתִי: וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ אֶחָיו הֲמָלֹךְ תִּמְלֹךְ עָלֵינוּ אִם מָשׁוֹל תִּמְשֹׁל בָּנוּ וַיּוֹסִפוּ עוֹד שְׂנֹא אֹתוֹ עַל חֲלֹמֹתָיו וְעַל דְּבָרָיו: וַיַּחֲלֹם עוֹד חֲלוֹם אַחֵר וַיְסַפֵּר אֹתוֹ לְאֶחָיו וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּה חָלַמְתִּי חֲלוֹם עוֹד וְהִנֵּה הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וְהַיָּרֵחַ וְאַחַד עָשָׂר כּוֹכָבִים מִשְׁתַּחֲוִים לִי: וַיְסַפֵּר אֶל אָבִיו וְאֶל אֶחָיו וַיִּגְעַר בּוֹ אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מָה הַחֲלוֹם הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר חָלָמְתָּ הֲבוֹא נָבוֹא אֲנִי וְאִמְּךָ וְאַחֶיךָ לְהִשְׁתַּחֲוֹת לְךָ אָרְצָה: וַיְקַנְאוּ בוֹ אֶחָיו וְאָבִיו שָׁמַר אֶת הַדָּבָר:
And Yosef dreamed a dream, and he told it his brothers; and they hated him even more. And he said to them, 'Hear, I beg you, this dream which I have dreamed. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood around, and made obeisance to my sheaf.' And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?' And they hated him even more for his dreams, and for his words. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, 'Behold, I have again dreamed a dream; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.' And he told it to his father, and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him, and said to him, 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow down ourselves to you to the earth?' And his brothers envied him; but his father kept the matter in mind. Bereishit 37:5-11

Yosef himself has two dreams, and he tells his brothers and his father the content of the dreams but never offers them his interpretation. He is vilified by his brothers as a self-centered narcissist; they have obviously interpreted the dreams from their own jaundiced perspective. They understand the dreams to be an indication that Yosef dreams of ruling over them.

Significantly, there are elements of his dreams that appear to slip by the brothers, but should not go unnoticed by readers of the text: His first dream was of sheaves, a theme that is revisited in the other dreams we have analyzed, be it the chief baker's handiwork or the sheaves of Paroh's dream. In Yosef's dream, the sheaves speak of the larger issue that looms in the background of all of the dreams: sheaves are a symbol of an agricultural society, but Yosef and his brothers are shepherds. On the one hand, we might interpret this vocation as an expression of their desire to identify with a “pre-sin” world, to identify with Hevel as opposed to Cain. On the other hand, we may attribute their source of livelihood purely to expediency: Although they live in Canaan, they are not masters of that land. Though the family lives in Hevron, the brothers travel a considerable distance to the north, to Shechem and Dotan, to graze their flocks. This has a distinctly nomadic ring to it: They do not own land, and therefore they cannot engage in farming. They may live in the Promised Land, but it is still just that – promised to them, not yet theirs.

For Yosef's dream of sheaves to be realized, their lives will have to change considerably. Does Yosef see the next stage of their lives as master of the Promised Land, or does his dream reflect a new phase of life in a different land[10]? The brothers never ask; they don’t seem to care. As far as they are concerned, Yosef's dream is simply the product of his over-active, self-centered imagination. And as they reject his first dream, they hate him for his second dream. But did they pause to consider its message?

A Vision and a Dream
Yosef's second dream deviates from all the dreams which follow; he dreams of celestial bodies, of the stars, the sun and moon. Again, the brothers do not seem interested in the deeper meaning of Yosef's dream. Even his father interprets the dream as an expression of Yosef's self-image. They all overlook the symbolism used in this dream - symbolism which we should not, ourselves, overlook: There was another member of the family who had a vision which involved the stars. His name was Avraham:

בראשית פרק טו, א-יא
אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה הָיָה דְבַר ה’ אֶל אַבְרָם בַּמַּחֲזֶה לֵאמֹר אַל תִּירָא אַבְרָם אָנֹכִי מָגֵן לָךְ שְׂכָרְךָ הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד: וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם אֲדֹנָי ה’ מַה תִּתֶּן לִי וְאָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ עֲרִירִי וּבֶן מֶשֶׁק בֵּיתִי הוּא דַּמֶּשֶׂק אֱלִיעֶזֶר: וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם הֵן לִי לֹא נָתַתָּה זָרַע וְהִנֵּה בֶן בֵּיתִי יוֹרֵשׁ אֹתִי: וְהִנֵּה דְבַרה’אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר לֹא יִירָשְׁךָ זֶה כִּי אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ הוּא יִירָשֶׁךָ: וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר הַכּוֹכָבִים אִם תּוּכַל לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ: וְהֶאֱמִן בַּה’ וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִיה’אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים לָתֶת לְךָ אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לְרִשְׁתָּהּ: וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי ה’ בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו קְחָה לִי עֶגְלָה מְשֻׁלֶּשֶׁת וְעֵז מְשֻׁלֶּשֶׁת וְאַיִל מְשֻׁלָּשׁ וְתֹר וְגוֹזָל: וַיִּקַּח לוֹ אֶת כָּל אֵלֶּה וַיְבַתֵּר אֹתָם בַּתָּוֶךְ וַיִּתֵּן אִישׁ בִּתְרוֹ לִקְרַאת רֵעֵהוּ וְאֶת הַצִּפֹּר לֹא בָתָר: וַיֵּרֶד הָעַיִט עַל הַפְּגָרִים וַיַּשֵּׁב אֹתָם אַבְרָם:
After these things the word of the Almighty came to Avram in a vision, saying, 'Fear not, Avram; I am your shield, and your reward will be great.' And Avram said, 'Almighty God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?' And Avram said, 'Behold, to me you have given no seed; and, lo, a member of my household staff is my heir.' And, behold, the word of the Almighty came to him, saying, 'This shall not be your heir; but he who shall come forth from your own bowels shall be your heir.' And He brought him outside, and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if you are able to count them'; and He said to him, 'So shall your seed be.' And he believed in the Almighty; and he counted it to him as tzedaka. And He said to him, 'I am the Almighty who brought you out of Ur Kasdim, to give you this land to inherit it.' And he said, 'Almighty God, how shall I know that I shall inherit it?' And He said to him, 'Bring me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon...' 15:1-10

The stars symbolize the number of Avraham’s descendents: Avraham, who was childless at this point, receives God's promise that he will be the patriarch of a great nation, with descendents too plentiful to count, who will inherit the Land of Canaan. We would have expected the grandchild and great grandchildren of Avraham to have seen the significance of Yosef's dream of stars. We might even have expected them to reinterpret the first dream in light of the second dream, to make a connection with the second part of Avraham's vision that dealt with inheriting the Land. How did they ignore these symbols? Why did they not realize that Yosef's dreams were somehow connected to the future of the Children of Israel, Avraham's descendents, in the Land of Israel? When hearing these two dreams[11] the brothers should have understood that Yosef described a situation which did not exist yet, a future time in which they and their descendents would be free to work the Land. They should have remembered Avraham’s dreams, especially the dream which immediately follows his vision of the stars:

בראשית פרק טו, יב-כא
וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לָבוֹא וְתַרְדֵּמָה נָפְלָה עַל אַבְרָם וְהִנֵּה אֵימָה חֲשֵׁכָה גְדֹלָה נֹפֶלֶת עָלָיו: וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה:  וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל: וְאַתָּה תָּבוֹא אֶל אֲבֹתֶיךָ בְּשָׁלוֹם תִּקָּבֵר בְּשֵׂיבָה טוֹבָה: וְדוֹר רְבִיעִי יָשׁוּבוּ הֵנָּה כִּי לֹא שָׁלֵם עֲוֹן הָאֱמֹרִי עַד הֵנָּה: וַיְהִי הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בָּאָה וַעֲלָטָה הָיָה וְהִנֵּה תַנּוּר עָשָׁן וְלַפִּיד אֵשׁ אֲשֶׁר עָבַר בֵּין הַגְּזָרִים הָאֵלֶּה: בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא כָּרַתה’אֶת אַבְרָם בְּרִית לֵאמֹר לְזַרְעֲךָ נָתַתִּי אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת מִנְּהַר מִצְרַיִם עַד הַנָּהָר הַגָּדֹל נְהַר פְּרָת: אֶת הַקֵּינִי וְאֶת הַקְּנִזִּי וְאֵת הַקַּדְמֹנִי: וְאֶת הַחִתִּי וְאֶת הַפְּרִזִּי וְאֶת הָרְפָאִים: וְאֶת הָאֱמֹרִי וְאֶת הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְאֶת הַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְאֶת הַיְבוּסִי:
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Avram; and, lo, a fear of great darkness fell upon him. And He said to Avram, 'Know for a certainty that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great wealth. And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.' And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Almighty made a covenant with Avram, saying, 'To your seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates; The Kenites, and the Kenazites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaim, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Yevusites. Bereishit 15:12-21

Avraham dreams; he learns that the path to the Land of Israel will not be a short, direct route. The path his descendents will take will be a long, circuitous one which will take them far away from their land. This will be a 'descent for the sake of ascent', for when they return, the land will truly be theirs, earned through their labor as slaves. At that time, working the holy land as farmers will be perceived as the greatest blessing.

Yosef, like Avraham, sees the path to Israel. He understands that it will necessarily pass through Egypt. The dreams that he interprets teach him that it is there that he will rise to power, there that his family will become as numerous as the stars.[12] The wine steward's dream foretells his own redemption, and Paroh's dreams show him the path to the future. Yosef sees God's master plan unfold in the dreams of others; his own dreams speak of the time of their return to the land – not as a nomadic band of brothers but as a nation in possession of their Promised Land. His brothers never asked Yosef to explain his dreams; would they have understood the message had he revealed it to them? Did the brothers share Yosef's ability to see beyond the present, to discern and understand hundreds of years of history in the visions he is granted?  It seems not; they saw their own personal rivalries and jealousies, and took no responsibility for the future. Yosef was, in more than one sense, a visionary: He saw beyond the present, and taught others to do the same. For Yosef, all these dreams are of one piece; they are all connected to the glorious dream of Avraham. Yosef understands that his own personal life story is a vehicle for Jewish history. Ultimately, this is his message to his brothers:
בראשית פרק מה: ה, ח
וְעַתָּה אַל תֵּעָצְבוּ וְאַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם... וְעַתָּה לֹא אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי הָאֱלֹהִים וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב לְפַרְעֹה וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל בֵּיתוֹ וּמשֵׁל בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:
Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life… So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Paroh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. Bereishit 45: 5, 8

Yosef helps them to understand what he has already come to know: His brothers are not the reason he is in Egypt. Their own personal interests are a part of something much greater than themselves. Our lives - all of our lives - are part and parcel of the covenant between God and Avraham: God brought the Children of Israel to Egypt as the final step toward their return, as a great nation, to the Land of Israel. Only then, only there, will the descendents of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, the Children of Israel, one day live in peace, prosperity and freedom.

[1] Ibn Ezra Bereishit 46:34
אבן עזרא על בראשית פרק מו פסוק לד
כי תועבת מצרים כל רועה צאן - לאות כי בימים ההם לא היו המצרים אוכלים בשר. ולא יעזבו אדם שיזבח צאן כאשר יעשו היום אנשי הודו. ומי שהוא רועה צאן תועבה היא שהוא שותה החלב. ואנשי הודו לא יאכלו ולא ישתו כל אשר יצא מחי מרגיש עד היום הזה:
[2] Riva Bereishit 46:34
פירוש הריב"א על בראשית פרק מו פסוק לד
כי תועבת מצרים כל רועה צאן. פרש"י לפי שהם אלהות שלהם, והטעם כ"ח לפי שיראתם היה מזל טלה ובגללו היו עובדין לצאן כי תועבת מצרים כל רועה צאן לפי שדרך רועה צאן לרדות הצאן במקלות וקש' למצרים כשרודים אלהותם, ד"א לפי שהרועים יודעים שאין בצאן כח אלהות והמצרים מאמינים אותם אף כי הם יודעים שאין בהם כח כמו שפ' חזקוני לעיל, ד"א לפי שאי אפשר שלא יהנו הרועים מן החלב ומן הגזה ודבר גנאי ותועבה למצרים שיהנו מאלהותם כ"פ. הרר"א, וי"מ רועה צאן ר"ל אוכל כמו שמצינו רעיה שהיא לשון אכילה כמו ירעו בשן וגלעד וקשה למצרים כשיאכלו אלהותם ואין המקרא משמע כן:

[3] Bchor Shor Bereishit 46:34
רבי יוסף בכור שור על בראשית פרק מו פסוק לד
כי תועבת מצרים כל רועה צאן - יש לומר מפני שהיא תועבה להם, ירחיקו אתכם מעליהם אל ארץ גושן. ולי נראה שהוא כינוי, כי חשובים בעיני מצרים כל רועי צאן, שמגדל תרפותם. ולפי שכוונתם לע"ז קורא אותם "תועבה", לפי שיאהבו אתכם יושיבו אתכם אל ארץ גושן, שהיא טובה, כי אין נראה שימאיס אחיו בעיניהם:

[4] See Hizkuni and Seforno Bereishit 43:32
חזקוני על בראשית פרק מג פסוק לב
כי תועבה היא למצרים - בזוי להם לאכול עם אדם נכרי כי אנשי מצרים גסי הרוח כדכתיב לכן קראתי לזאת רהב הם שבת.
ספורנו עה"ת ספר בראשית פרק מג פסוק לב
 כי לא יוכלון המצרים. לפיכך לא אכל הוא עם אחיו ולא הוא ולא אחיו עם המצרים:

[5] See Targum Unkolus Bereishit 43:32
תרגום אונקלוס על בראשית פרק מג פסוק לב
(לב) ושויאו ליה בלחודוהי ולהון בלחודיהון ולמצראי דאכלין עמיה בלחודיהון ארי לא יכלין מצראי למיכל עם עבראי לחמא ארי בעירא דמצראי דחלין ליה עבראי אכלין:
[6] See Daat Zekeinim m'Baalei Tosfot  on Bereishit 46:34, who draws the connection between this verse and the word 'abomination' found in connection with Israelites' vocation.
דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות על בראשית פרק מו פסוק לד
כי תועבת מצרים וכו' - מאוסים היו רועי צאן בעיניהם כי הצאן היה דבר מאוס לאכילה כמו שמאוסין העזים לאכילה בהרבה מקומות. וכן לא יוכלון לאכול את העברים לחם כי תועבה היא למצרים מאוסין היו אנשי עבר הנהר בעיניהם ולכן קשה להם לאכול עמהם וכן הן נזבח את תועבת מצרים לעיניהם נזבח בפניהם מה שהוא מאוס להם ולא יסקלונו יהרגונו לא נאמר אלא יסקלונו. ד"א שמעתי כי תועבת מצרים כל רעה וזן עצמו מן הצאן ואוכל אותם כי היא ע"ז שלהם ידועה מלשון הרעה אותי דמתרגמינן דזן יתי:
[7] For more on this theme, see Explorations, Chapter one.
[8] See Talmud Bavli Brachot 40a.
[9] Regarding the connection between bread and knowledge, see Talmud Bavli Brachot 40a, and Sfat Emet on Baha'alotcha, 5647.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף מ/א
דתניא אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון רבי מאיר אומר גפן היה שאין לך דבר שמביא יללה על האדם אלא יין שנאמר וישת מן היין וישכר רבי נחמיה אומר תאנה היתה שבדבר שנתקלקלו בו נתקנו שנאמר ויתפרו עלה תאנה רבי יהודה אומר חטה היתה שאין התינוק יודע לקרות אבא ואמא עד שיטעום טעם דגן
 For it has been taught: R. Meir holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine, as it says,' And he drank of the wine and became drunk.' R. Nehemiah says it was the fig tree, thus they repaired their misdeed with the instrument of (that sin), as it says, 'And they sewed fig leaves together.' R. Judah says it was wheat, since a child does not know how to call father and mother until it has had a taste of wheat.
שפת אמת ספר במדבר - פרשת בהעלותך - שנת [תרמ"ז]
והנה כתיב כמתאוננים רע כו'. ביאור הענין כי בודאי לא הי' מחשבותם להרע. רק שרצו בחי' עץ הדעת טוב ורע כמו חטא הראשון. ובאמת עתה אחר החטא שנתערב טוב ורע בעולם אין הנפש יכול להתתקן רק בכח הבירור. וזה רמז הפסוק גם בלא דעת נפש לא טוב. מאי גם. רק להיות כי עיקר הרצון הי' שיתדבק האדם בעץ החיים תורה וחקים ומצות שהוא למעלה מהשגת דעת האדם. אבל עתה אין הנפש בטוב רק ע"י הדעת. ואכילת לחם מן הארץ הוא הדעת המברר בין טוב ורע ובורר אוכל מתוך פסולת כמ"ש בגמ' אין תינוק יודע לקרוא אבא ואימא עד שטועם טעם דגן. וכן אין מרחיקין מצואת קטן עד שאוכל כזית דגן שבלחם מן הארץ מתערב פסולת. וכמו כן בע"ח שהם גדולי קרקע ונזונין מעשב הארץ.
[10] See Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, The Rav Speaks: Five Addresses on Israel, History, and the Jewish People, lecture 1: "And Joseph Dreamt a Dream," p.27. The Rav notes the fact that Yosef and the brothers are shepherds, yet he dreams of agriculture, he concludes that Yosef's vision was of their impending exile and the lifestyle they would be forced to adopt in Egypt.
[11] Combining the images of Yosef’s two dreams - stalks on the ground and the stars, sun and moon in the heavens – creates a vision remarkably similar to his father’s dream of a ladder, with its feet on the ground and its top reaching the heavens.
[12] When Yosef collects and stores the wheat of Egypt, it is described as 'numerous as the grains of sand': Bereishit 41:49
ספר בראשית פרק מא, מט
וַיִּצְבֹּר יוֹסֵף בָּר כְּחוֹל הַיָּם הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד עַד כִּי חָדַל לִסְפֹּר כִּי אֵין מִסְפָּר:

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