1999Genesis 37 (5) Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers and they hated him even more. (6) He said to them, "Hear this dream which I have dreamed: (7) 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." (8) 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 about his dreams. (9) He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying, "Look, I have had another dream; And this time the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." (10) And when he told his father and brothers, his father berated him. "What," he said, "is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you on the ground?" (11) So his brothers were enraged at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.
Genesis 40 (1) Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord the king of Egypt. (2) Pharaoh was angry with his two aides, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, (3) and put them in custody, in the house of the chief steward, in the same prison where Joseph as confined. (4) The chief steward assigned Joseph to them, and he waited on them. When they had been in custody for some time, (5) both of them--the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt--who were confined in the prison--dreamed in the same night individual dreams with their own individual meanings. (6) When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were distraught. (7) He asked Pharaoh's aides, who were with him in custody in his master's house, saying, "Why do you appear downcast today?" (8) And they said to him, "We had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." So Joseph said to them, "Surely G-d can interpret! Please tell me [your dreams]." (9) Then the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph. He said to him, "In my dream, there was a vine in front of me. (10) On the vine were three branches. It had barely budded, when out came its blossoms and its clusters ripened into grapes. (11) Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand."
(12) Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: The three branches are three days. (13) In three days Pharaoh will pardon you and restore you to your post; you will place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as was your custom formerly when you were his cupbearer. (14) But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh so as to free me from this place. (15) For in truth, I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews; nor have I done anything that they should have put me in the dungeon." (16) When the chief baker saw how favorably he had interpreted, he said to Joseph, "In my dream, similarly, there were three open baskets on my head. (17) In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head." (18) Joseph answered, "This is its interpretation: The three baskets are three days. (19) In three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale you upon a pole; and the birds will pick off your flesh." (20) On the third day -- his birthday - Pharaoh made a banquet for all his officials, and he singled out his chief cupbearer and his chief baker from among his officials. (21) He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand; (22) but the chief baker he impaled - just as Joseph had interpreted to them. (23) Yet the chief cupbearer did not think of Joseph; he forgot him.
Your Torah Navigator
Both of these stories highlight Joseph's relationship with dreams. What are the distinctions between the two stories?
1. Why are Jacob and Joseph's brothers so antagonistic toward his dreams? What bothers them more: the dreams themselves or that it is Joseph, the youngest brother, who has them? Why?
2. Why did Joseph's sharing of his dreams cause his brothers to hate him even more? Why did Jacob "keep the matter in mind?" (Hint: What might a father's life experience tell him about what he observes between his children? What does Jacob himself know about dreams?)
3. When Joseph was interpreting the dreams in the prison, who was actually doing the interpreting?
4. Which idea is more powerful -- Joseph interpreting his own dreams or those of the aides?
Your Talmud Navigator
Brachot 55a Rab Judah also said in the name of Rab: There are three things for which one should
supplicate (thank God); a good king, a good year, and a good dream... Rabbi Hisda also said: A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.
*** Brachot 56b Rabbi Hanina said: If one sees a well in a dream, he will behold peace, since it says: "And Isaac's servants digged in the valley, and found there a well of living water? (Genesis 26:19). Rabbi Nathan said: He will find Torah, since it says, "Whoso findeth me, findeth life? (Proverbs 8:35) and it is written here, ?a well of living water.? Raba said: It means life literally.
1. Why would Rab Judah pick these three things? What do they have in common? (Hint: In whose control are these three things that they would be good or bad?)
2. What is Rabbi Hisda's point? Who is sending the letter?
3. What, according to Rabbis Hanina, Nathan and Raba, can be found within dreams?
4. According to these three talmudic points, are dreams themselves bad? What if they contain bad news? Is that different than how the Torah seems to perceive dreams?
The power of dreams was very real to our biblical ancestors. Within the last century we have come to understand that dreams are intricately related to our mental health and well-being as natural expressions of our subconscious. In Joseph's time, dreams were believed to be divine messages, often encoded, that could only be interpreted by people with special prophetic skills. This concept was prominent in many ancient Middle Eastern cultures, especially in Egypt.
The distinction about dream interpretation between our ancient Israelite ancestors and their surrounding pagan cultures was the belief that God spoke directly to our leaders and prophets through their dreams and that they understood the message without needing a separate interpreter or text. This was a Jewish gift alone, though: God spoke to us for our purposes and benefit and not for others. Joseph's use of his gift of interpretation for his fellow Egyptian prisoners rather than for himself is rare in the Bible. The only other exception, Daniel, also served a foreign ruler. The rabbis of the Talmud came to appreciate dreams as messages that foretold events of great importance to the dreamer. They were to be taken seriously and valued as omens of things to come.
Another Jewish thinker of a different and modern type, Dr. Sigmund Freud, taught the contemporary world that dreams are not messages from God but messages from the self. Some need outside interpretation and some are clear in their meaning, but they are to be taken seriously as indicators of who and where we are mentally and emotionally. Whether you follow the ancient idea of dreams as messages from God or the modern idea as messages from the self -- or perhaps some combination of the two -- the portion this week provides us with a powerful message of the impact they can have upon the dreamer.
Prepared by Rabbi Scott Aaron, Assistant Director, Hillel at The Ohio State University