WalkingTorah — Parashat VaYeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

“To dream the impossible dream,” declares Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. When it comes to dreaming impossible dreams, Joseph would seem to have little competition. As the second-youngest son (11th out of 12) born to Jacob, and despised for his father doting on him so much, there seems to be little hope that either of his extraordinary dreams will ever come to pass. As he relates to his brothers, in his first dream, his brothers’ sheaves of wheat suddenly began bowing down to his sheaf. In his second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bow down to him. His brothers immediately interpret his dreams as representing Joseph’s desire to rule over the family, and they hate him for it.

Were the two dreams really one, or were they indicative of two separate events which were to occur to Joseph and his brothers? According to Kenaf Renanim (R’ Moshe ben Avraham Berdugo, 1679-1731, Tiberias, Land of Israel), they were two separate prophecies, and both came true. Read the verses carefully, says Kenaf Renanim, and this will become clear. In the first dream, the sheaves are not bowing down to Joseph himself, but rather to his sheaf (37:7). This dream was realized when the brothers first came down to Egypt in search of food, when Joseph ruled as second-in-command to Pharaoh. As Genesis 42:6 relates: “Now Joseph — he was the viceroy over the land, he was the provider to all the people of the land. Joseph’s brothers came and they bowed to him, faces to the ground.” Joseph’s brothers did not really bow to Joseph in this instance, they bowed to the viceroy of Egypt. They bowed to the position, not to the man. This is why the brothers’ sheaves bowed to Joseph’s sheaf, and not to him.

Additionally, after Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, and after their father, Jacob, has died, the brothers bow before him again: “His brothers themselves also went and flung themselves before him and said, ‘We are ready to be your slaves’ ” (50:18). In this case, says Kenaf Renanim, they were truly prostrating themselves before Joseph himself, not just the office of Egyptian viceroy. This fulfilled the second dream, when the eleven stars bowed down not to Joseph’s sheaf, but to Joseph.

Some of us may be frustrated with the reality that wealth often gives a person a seat at a table of decision-makers, whether or not the wealthy person is wise, kind, or common-sensical. Someone who played the stock market well, or who earned hundreds of millions after an IPO, or who invented a gadget that everyone needs and buys, all of a sudden seems to get consulted on matters completely unrelated to his expertise. He’s a great businessman — good for him! But why should we care about what he thinks about solving world hunger? Or about ending the Arab-Israeli dispute? Or about lowering the teen pregnancy rate? This reality, as frustrating as it might be, is reality nonetheless. Many people bow to the powerful and wealthy, but like the brothers when they initially came down to Egypt, they are not bowing to the person himself, but to his sheaf – to his power and wealth. Whether we like it or not, wealth often translates into power, and power demands respect.

Whether we are the ones who have been fortunate enough to acquire much wealth, or if we merely interact with others who have done so, may we be the kind of people whom others want to respect — not due to what we have made, but due to what we have become. Whether it is others who are “bowing down” to us, or whether we are the ones “bowing,” may the object of the bowing never be merely the “sheaf,” but rather the person himself, as he conducts himself in a dignified, wise, and compassionate manner. A manner which earns others’ respect.

(Based on ב. יאושזון, מאוצרנו הישן – בראשית, p. 196)

About the Author
Rabbi Aryeh A. Leifert is originally from Teaneck, New Jersey. He served as an Assistant Rabbi and Judaics Studies principal in San Antonio, Texas from 2006-2009. In 2009, he moved to Israel with his family, where he works as a licensed tour guide for individuals, couples, families of all ages, groups, schools, and religious institutions. He also offers Virtual Tours of Israel through the internet. He may be reached via his website, WalkingIsrael.com.