Joseph’s Dreams

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons—he was his “child of old age”; and he had made him an ornamented tunic. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him. Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more.  He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf.” His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk and for his dreams.  He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream, behold the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (Gen. 37:3-9)

My question is, why in the first dream the brothers’ sheaves bowed to Joseph’s sheaf, but in the second dream, the 11 stars are not bowing to Joseph’s star, but bowed directly to Joseph himself?

Ahron F.

Rabbi: Rabbi Chait explained the reason behind these two dreams; they were forecasts. The brothers would be subservient to Joseph in terms of grain during the famine: they would descend to Egypt and purchase wheat, which Joseph controls. This is subservience in terms of the physical, the first dream of the brothers’ sheaves bowing to Joseph’s sheaf. But Joseph would also rule or direct the brothers in their perfection, represented by the stars the sun and the moon bowing to Joseph. But there was a relationship: when the brothers were physically subservient to Joseph regarding the grain, this was divine license for Joseph to dominate the brothers in terms of their metaphysics, the stars. Meaning, the two dreams together formed a divine permission for Joseph to force the brothers into perfecting themselves, something a person ordinarily has no right to do: we can only work on our own perfection and cannot force others, unless God licenses us, which He did with these two dreams.

When the brothers unknowingly approached Joseph to buy grain, Torah teaches, “Joseph remembered his dreams” (Gen. 42:9). This was not an arrogant statement, as if Joseph was priding himself saying, “Aha, my dreams are coming true.” No. Torah is indicating that Joseph now recognized the meaning of his dreams: they licensed him to subject his brothers to a trial and recreate their sale of Joseph by framing Benjamin, forcing them into a duplicate situation where hopefully they would not sell-out Benjamin too, but repent for selling Joseph.

In terms of physical sustenance, the brothers’ physical needs were reliant upon Joseph's physical wealth,  both were matters outside the “persons” of the brothers and Joseph. In other words, something outside the brothers and Joseph—God’s 7 years of plenty and then famine—subjugated the brothers physically to Joseph. So in that first dream, things “other” than the brothers and Joseph—their sheaves—was the dream content.  But when it came to perfection, it was “Joseph himself” who directed the brothers repentance. Therefore the second dream concerning perfection displays the stars bowing to Joseph himself—not 11 stars bowing to Joseph’s star.  

Thanks Ahron for this good question.