They both sat there, each lost in his own worries, unsettled by mysterious dreams, not realizing that each one held the key to unravel the other’s mystery. This is how Rashi imagines the tragic situation of the butler and the baker in chapter 40, before Yosef arrives on the scene. The situation resonates powerfully with our world of communication today.
It’s not that they didn’t talk to each other about their dreams. They both tell Yosef: “We’ve dreamt a dream, and no one can solve it.” How could it be that they didn’t realize they had each dreamed the other’s solution? And how does Yosef succeed?
The answer is simple. When the butler and the baker each shared their dream, they each wanted to unload, to share. But did they honestly believe that the person they were sharing with had something to actively contribute? Did they view him fully as a subject, or as an object, a listening receptacle? Yosef does more than offer a listening ear. He invites the butcher and baker to need him, to consider that perhaps Yosef has a unique ability to help, for “God has his solutions” somewhere.
People’s inherent need for the other is emphasized by another, seemingly technical comment of Rashi at the end of the chapter. Rashi explains that, in Hebrew, yom huledet, the word for birthday, is causative. If you’d translate it literally it would be a “was birthed-day”, because “people are only born because of others”. Part of what is tragic in our world of constant communication and publishing is not only that there’s a greater focus on talking than on listening, it’s that even when we’re talking, we’re not looking for listeners who are subjects, we’re looking for listeners who are objects, who validate what we say with a “like”, who improve our stats. We don’t recognize how much we need each other, how much we can help each other, how much God has placed within all of us, the solutions to one another’s problems.
This is (almost completely) a daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il