A Drash for Miketz (5781)
by Marc Mangel
Today, let’s discuss dreams (could you have predicted that?), in particular dreams of aspiration and dreams of prediction.
First, a poem from Langston Hughes.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Hughes is talking about dreams of aspiration, meaning a hope or ambition of achieving something. There is no mention of mechanism – how to achieve the dream, but only a warning to not let it go.
On the other hand, the dreams of Joseph, the baker and head chamberlain, and Pharaoh himself are dreams of prediction.
Joseph’s first dream (Ch 37, v 7; my source is the Rebbe’s Chumash): There we were, binding sheaves in the midst of the field, when my sheaf stood up and remained upright. Then your sheaves formed a circle around my sheaf and prostrated themselves before it” (there are no interpolations for this verse from Rashi in the Rebbe’s Chumash).
Joseph’s second dream (Ch 37, v 9; Rashi interpolation in italics): …He said, “Look, I had another dream, and there were the sun, the moon, and eleven stars prostrating themselves before me.” This dream indicated that Joseph saw himself asserting himself not only over his brothers, but over his parents [usually interpreted to be Yaakov and Bilah] as well.
We have little indication of how Joseph expects to achieve what he describes. It is hard to imagine that he sees the work he does for Pharaoh as a mechanism for achieving the predictions. In fact, he may not have thought about those dreams for many years. When his brothers arrive, we read (Ch 42, v9): “He [Joseph] recalled the dreams that he had dreamed about them” suggesting that Joseph had not held fast to those dreams, but that he had only remembered them when his brothers arrived. And the Rashi interpolated in the Rebbe’s chumash is “Understanding that the dreams [of the brothers bowing down to him] were coming true, he realized that he had to contrive some way for Benjamin to join them so he, too, could prostrate himself before Joseph, completing the rest of the dream”.
Pharaoh’s first dream (Ch 41, v1-4): At the end of two full years [of Joseph in prison] Pharaoh had a dream. In his dream, there he was, standing by the Nile River, when seven good-looking robust cows emerged from the Nile River and started grazing in the marsh. Then seven other cows, ugly and scrawny, emerged after them from the Nile River, and they stood next to the good-looking cows on the bank of the Nile River. The ugly, scrawny cows ate up the seven good-looking, robust cows. Pharaoh then awoke.
Pharaoh’s second dream (Ch 41, v 5-7) [I know that we need to be careful about attributing time intervals in the Torah, but it sure seemed that Pharaoh had these two dreams in one sleepless, miserable night]: He feel asleep and dreamed a second time. In this dream, there were seven ears of grain, healthy and good-looking, growing on a single stalk. The seven ears of grain sprouted after them, gaunt and parched from being battered by the east wind. The gaunt ears swallowed up the seven healthy, full ears. Pharaoh awoke and behold, it was clear to him that he had dreamed a complete dream that now needed to be properly interpreted.
These dreams are not ones of aspiration or ambition, and Pharaoh is smart enough to see that they need interpretation, which he obtains from Joseph and we know the consequences of that.
These dreams happened a long time ago and in very specific situations; what relevance could they possibly have for us today?
Let us first compare the two dreams of Pharaoh and the first dream of Joseph. In the first dream of Joseph “There we were, binding sheaves in the midst of the field” – Joseph and his brothers were doing work. In the two dreams of Pharaoh the “good-looking robust cows emerged from the Nile River” and “there were seven ears of grain, healthy and good-looking, growing on a single stalk”. There is no evidence of humans working – these dreams involve something (cows, corn) coming from nothing.
A message for us from this comparison is that anything we receive for free will not endure. Indeed, the sages say that receiving something without effort is “flawed goodness” or the “bread of shame”.
The second dream of Joseph shows that even when he was immersed in the earthly, he was aware of the heavenly.
What is the message for us? As we hold fast to our dreams (aspirations), we must work hard to achieve them and must always be living between heaven and earth.