A great joke about dreams is the one where Joe dreams the same dream for five consecutive nights. Each dream is filled with five manifestations of five. He is both pleased and perplexed. So to satisfy himself, he goes to the local race track and bets $5,000 on the fifth horse in the fifth race. To his alarm the horse came in fifth.
The Talmud tells us that dreams are 1/60 prophecy. One should interpret dreams (“a dream received and not interpreted is like a letter received and left unopened”) with caution. So much of our interpretations are, of course, projections of our own ego needs. So it was with the brash and undiplomatic Yosef we encounter at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The parsha begins and ends with dreams. Through dreams Yosef falls, and through dreams he ascends. This up and down process is reminiscent of the dream that his father had as he departed from the home of Isaac and Rebecca. There angels ascend and descend; here Yosef descends and ascends. There the dream speaks of Yaakov’s need to mature; so, too, here are the dreams gauges of Yosef’s process of becoming a man.
Elie Wiesel comments that Yosef’s immaturity was exacerbated by both the favoritism shown him by his father and the lack of empathy from his older brothers, sons of different mothers, expressed for their younger orphaned sibling.
“They should have felt sorry for their small orphaned brother, whose mother had died tragically; instead they pounded on him, harassed him. They should have tried to console him; instead they made him feel unwanted, an outsider. Their father favored him above others, and why not? Jacob loved him best because he was unhappy. But they refused to understand and treated him as an intruder. He spoke to them, but they did not answer, says the Midrash. They turned their backs on him. They ignored him; they denied him. To them he was stranger to be driven away.” (Messengers of God, p.153)
Yosef’s dreams are a necessary projection that despite his “favored” status he was an outcast. Dreaming grandiose dreams was the only way he could express his deep sense of powerlessness. His dreams were much more a cry for acceptance that it was a condemnation of his bothers.
These dreams offered Yosef a way to transform himself, and as we will see in next week’s parsha, the immature boy’s dreams of power will be fulfilled.
Reb Moshe Waldoks, Founding Rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, Schechter alumni parent