The Significance of Dreams 

Rabbi Reuven Mann


This week’s parsha, Miketz, describes the most unlikely turn of events one could possibly imagine. How could a Jewish kid, sold as a slave at the tender age of 17 to a nation whose people could not eat bread at the same table as the Hebrews, rise to become the most powerful figure in the country?

Not only that, but could this slave transform Egypt into the world’s breadbasket, providing sustenance to many nations at a time of deadly famine?

The ways of G-d are beyond our comprehension. Yosef was an extraordinary person endowed with the gift of prophecy. This proved to be the cause of both his downfall and his ultimate success. As a youth, he had had two dreams foretelling great things, which he carelessly related to his brothers. For this indiscretion he paid a heavy price.

However, the brothers’ abusive treatment of Yosef fit in perfectly with the Divine plan. In Egypt, his ability to accurately interpret dreams was the gateway by which he rose to supreme power. But the road to this goal would be a rocky one.

The first stage of Yosef’s ascension was his encounter with the wife of Potiphar. He was extremely handsome, and his mistress was very attracted to him. She persisted in pressuring him to accede to her desires, but he refused. One day she found herself alone with him at home, sought to seduce him, and would not be denied. She “caught hold of him by his garment, saying ‘Lie with me,’ so he left his cloak in her hand and fled outside.”

As one would expect, the spurned lady now sought revenge, claiming that Yosef had attempted to rape her, but when she screamed he fled in haste, leaving his  garment behind. This piece of evidence lent credence to her case, and Yosef was cast into the dungeon.

One can’t help but wonder why Yosef was seemingly so careless. He had to know the extreme danger of leaving his coat behind. Had he grabbed it from her, there would have been no evidence substantiating her damning accusation. Why was Yosef so unconcerned  about leaving behind an incriminating piece of evidence?

The great Biblical commentator Ralbag explains that Yosef acted intentionally. He says, “It is appropriate for a perfected person to overcome his inclination so as not to sin against Hashem, and he should not be afraid of any evil consequences he might suffer as a result. Thus we see that Yosef left his garment with his mistress for fear that he might be overcome by his desires, and he wasn’t worried about the harm that he would suffer at the hands of his master’s wife.” It was more important to Yosef to guard himself from sin than to protect himself from false accusations and imprisonment.

Yosef paid a heavy price for his righteous behavior. However, his unjustified incarceration was part of the Divine plan. For the Chief Butler and the Chief Baker were imprisoned with him. He noticed their despair on the morning after both of them had very disturbing dreams. Yosef confidently interpreted both dreams, and in three days, his predictions proved accurate to the last detail. The seeds for Yosef’s deliverance had been sown.

When the Butler was freed, as his dream had predicted, Yosef asked him to intercede for him with Pharaoh. However, the Butler (who had just received a great dispensation from Pharaoh) saw no benefit for himself in pushing his luck for the Hebrew kid. G-d, however, arranged a situation where it would be in the Butler’s interests to remember Yosef’s deed.

Pharaoh had a strange and disturbing dream that none of his wise men could decipher. When the Butler saw that he could be a hero, the opportunity jolted his memory, and Yosef was summoned before the King. The Hebrew slave revealed the true meaning of the dreams and how Pharaoh could avoid the  devastating calamity they portended. For one of the few times in history, true genius was recognized and appreciated. Pharaoh said, “Now that Hashem has revealed all this to you, there is none as discerning and wise as you.” And he appointed Yosef to rule the land.

Yosef realized that his great wisdom and prophetic insight were a gift from Hashem to be used for the benefit of mankind. Most significantly, he sanctified G-d’s name by showing Pharaoh that Hashem was the source of all wisdom and that He graciously shared it with those who truly feared Him.

The mission of the Jewish people is to proclaim and sanctify Hashem’s name in the world by displaying the type of knowledge and understanding that will cause the nations to proclaim, “What a wise and discerning people is this great nation.” Yosef showed that this can be achieved. May we merit to follow in his footsteps.