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Dreaming in the Future
By: SFW Students & Alumna
Gabriella Lebrecht (SFW '09)
Joseph has two dreams. The first describes his future power over his brothers, whose sheaves he sees bowing down to his own. In the second dream, 11 stars, the sun and the moon bow before him. His father, interpreting the image, is offended; “Shall I and your mother and your brothers bow down to you?” he demands.
The commentators find a wider set of references. Rashi sees the moon as Bilhah who, as his mother’s maid, helped to raise Joseph. He explains this by quoting the Gemara in brachot that all dreams contain a false element, Dvar Batal (so it would appear to be Rivka in the dream in a simple explanation, as opposed to Bilhah). Ramban suggests that the moon reflects all the generations that came from Jacob, the seventy souls that went down to Egypt. Ramban is forced to give this answer, which seems even more distant from the vision, as according to his calculations, Bilhah is no longer alive when Jacob’s family come down to Egypt.
Why are the parshanim so bothered? Surely Rashi could have described the moon was a “Dvar Batal” and left it at that? Why do they keep looking for a bigger picture?
Their search for symmetry exists elsewhere. After the sale of Joseph the narrative skips to the story of Yehuda and Tamar. It then returns to the plotline of Joseph’s descent to Egypt. The parshanim ask what the purpose is of the interruption. It surely can’t be chronological, as the narrative allows enough time for three children to be born and come to a marriageable age. The Chizkuni brings a midrash from Bereshit Rabba:
“While the (fathers of the) tribes were engaged in selling Yosef, Yosef was mourning and fasting, Reuven was likewise mourning and fasting, as was Yaakov; Yehuda was busy taking a wife, and God was also busy – creating the light of the Messiah" (Bereishit Rabba, 85:1).
Here is an important lesson in faith. Though the sale of Joseph seems like a low point in Jewish history with the divisions among the brothers so great they wanted to kill Joseph, hope is ever present. After 210 years in slavery in Egypt, they will find redemption and return to the land of Canaan - although God’s plan is longer still. Yehuda and Tamar’s marriage results in the birth of Peretz, the ancestor of King David and the future Mashiach. God’s plan was not for the short exile of 210 years but for the longer term exile that we continue to endure.
This idea is echoed in the Haftara in two ways. The Haftara describes the sin of the Northern Kingdom and how a day of judgment is approaching. Rav Hirsch says in his commentary,
“Whereas the words of the sidra show us the fine threads of the Higher Direction which prepared the move of the Family of Jacob into the Egyptian Galut….the words of our Prophet open for us an insight into the conditions which would inevitably result in the banishment into exile.”
Rabbi Shaviv brings out a different aspect in the haftara in his book Bein Haftara Leparasha.
“Can two walk together, unless they are in agreement? Will a lion roar in the forest if, he has no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has taken nothing? Will a bird fall in a snare upon the land, if there is no lure for it? Does a snare spring up from the earth and have taken nothing at all? Shall a shofar be sounded in the city and the people not be afraid? Shall there be evil in a city and Hashem did not do it? ” (Amos 2: 3-6)
Within these verses the prophet is showing that nothing is coincidental, least of all the actions of Hashem. Similarly in this week’s parasha, what looks like disintegration turns out to be the weaving of the light of Mashiach. Indeed, parts of the Divine plan are revealed shortly. And thus, following his revelation, Yosef is able to tell his brothers: "And now do not be saddened... that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life... to preserve for you a remnant on the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Bereishit 45:5-8).
That, we conclude, is the reason the parshanim try so hard to find a fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams. They see the end that is planned in the beginning. The perfect symmetry is present in all of God’s plans.
1: Parshat Shavua