After the dream

How does one describe Yosef’s life? Perhaps: A series of unfortunate incidents? Was it like a string of Curious George stories, with all the best intentions going awry only to turn out for the best? BTW the authors of those beloved children’s stories, H. A. and Margaret Rey, were German Jews who barely escaped from the Nazis’ clutches, on hand-built bicycles. No, we can’t compare the Divine plan for Yosef HaZadik to other adventure tales. But what they do share in common with other beloved stories is that the reader is along for the ride. In the case of Yosef’s adventures, we must also discover what his travails can teach us.

This week’s installment of the Zadik’s saga famously begins ‘at the end of two years (Breishit 41:1)’ of Yosef’s tenure as a favored prisoner, but then immediately turns our attention to Pharaoh and his dreams. Dreams continue to dominate our narrative. Pharaoh, along with the baker and the butler, didn’t have a clue about how to handle this Divine information. Yosef, on the other hand, is very clear about the dreams, their meaning and ramifications.

Of course, our Sages were very aware of this dichotomy between Yosef and other dreamers, and they wanted to further inform us about this phenomenon. As a result, they chose a fascinating episode from the life of Shlomo HaMelech to be the Haftorah for Miketz which helps us understand an important truth.

This story is very famous, but is rarely read as a Haftorah, because Miketz almost always falls out on Chanuka. Therefore, its place is usually usurped by a Chanuka Haftorah. Anyway, it’s the story of the two mothers claiming the same baby.

Quick recap: A mother has accidently suffocated her newborn. She then switches her deceased baby for a living baby residing in the same building. The victimized mother demands justice, and they appear before the newly crowned Shlomo HaMelech. He requests a sword and readies to split the baby and give each mother a half (like the TALIT at the beginning of Bava Metzia). The true mother relents and tearfully requests the whole child be given to the usurper, Shlomo proclaims her the real mother and awards her the baby.

The whole country acclaims his great wisdom: When all Yisrael heard the decision that the king rendered they stood in awe of the king, for they saw that he possessed Divine wisdom to execute justice (Melachim Aleph 3:29).

Before I get back to the relevance of this story to our parsha, I must share an interpretation I saw in the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Shlomo HaMelech, of course, never considered slicing the baby, that’s why he was personally holding the sword. However, the actual suggestion was never to surgically divide the child. The King offered for the bifurcation of the child, a sort of time share. They would divide the raising of the child. The real mother knew that wouldn’t be good for the baby. Kids must be raised with one clearly developed philosophy of rearing and education.

So, what’s the connection to our Torah reading? Well, the Haftorah begins with the word VAYAKATZ, which shares the same root as MIKETZ, the name of our parsha, and refers to a moment after something has transpired. In our parsha, after two years of jail for our hero, Yosef. In the Haftorah, it’s right after the famous dream of Shlomo, when he is granted great wisdom. Now that’s a major shift from the Torah reading. In Breishit, we highlight dreams; we never skip over them.

That’s the key, not the linguistic connection. Our Haftorah was chosen to teach us that even though dreams are important, what we do with them is the crucial concept. Throughout the Yosef saga, one should not focus on the content of the dreams. Instead pay close attention to how our hero interprets the dream and then utilizes that information to inform his behavior. Similarly, Shlomo HaMelech doesn’t just ask for this great boon from God, he immediately utilizes this amazing gift to benefit his nation.

The same is true for us. We all have dreams, but the crucial question is always: Do we work to actualize our dreams? Dreaming is wonderful; fulfilling them is infinitely better.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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