Within the first two parshot of the Joseph saga, Joseph confronts three sets of dreams which illustrate both the concept and the different stages of prophetic dreams.
Throughout history mankind has questioned the meaning, purpose, and possible application of dreams…. Are they a statement about the person having the dream? …. Do they foretell the future?…. Are they a mysterious message to us from some unknown source?
Talmud tells us that the some dreams can actually foretell the future like the dreams of Jacob. However, Talmud also states that only 1/16 of all dreams result in prophecy. And then, it is only a true prophet who can state, interpret, and act upon the content of dreams.
Joseph is such a prophet. In our reading of Torah we find that Joseph has three different dream experiences. In each he sharpens his ability to interpret and act upon these dreams. In last week’s parsha, Veyeishev, we saw two of these experiences.
At the beginning of the parsha Jacob tells his brothers of two of his dreams. In the first, sheaves of corn which the brothers are working with parade in a circle and bow down to the sheaf that Jacob is preparing.
In a second dream, Jacob sees the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to Joseph. Joseph just recounts the dream. The brothers infer that the dreams say that they will bow down to Joseph. (Gen. 37:5-11)
These dreams show the first step in prophecy by dreams… selecting a dream that can become prophetic.
A second set of dreams are presented at the end of the parsha while Joseph is in an Egyptian prison. Joseph meets two of Pharaoh’s ex-officers who are also in prison.
The first, the chief cupbearer tells of three branches of grapes. The cupbearer squeezes the grapes to produce a cup of wine which he gives to Pharaoh. Joseph explains that the three branches represent three days. And by handing the cup to Pharaoh, Joseph foretells that the cupbearer will be restored to his past position.
The chief baker tells of a dream where he sees three baskets of bread and other foods on his head. Birds appear, swoop down, and eat all the food. Joseph sees the three baskets to represent three days. However, the birds swooping down and eating the food foretells a bad future for the baker. Joseph foretells that he will be hung from a pole and birds will come and eat of his flesh. (Gen. 41:5-22)
Both prophecies come true. Here the dreams are told … and then, in the second stage of dream prophecy, each is interpreted.
In this week’s parsha we read of a third set of dream. Joseph is “at the end” of his prison time. (Hence the title of this week’s parsha) In this series of dreams, Pharaoh is the dreamer. In his first dream he sees seven handsome, fat cows are standing by the Nile. Then, they are consumed by seven repulsive, thin, and hungry cows. Pharaoh wakes up…. Pharaoh then falls asleep again and has a second dream. In this dream, seven healthy ears of grain were growing on a single stalk. And then seven other ears of grain are seen growing…. But these were thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin ears swallow the healthy grain. Pharaoh wakes up and realized it was just a dream…. But, a dream he didn’t understand.
He asks the wise men of his court and none can provide a satisfactory answer. Joseph was suggested as a successful interpreter of dreams. Joseph suggests that the dreams tell of seven good growing seasons to be followed by seven poor seasons. Then he takes the third step of dream prophecy. He suggests a solution…. Pharaoh should make plans to store grain during the seven good years for distribution during the seven poor years.
Through these three sets of dreams Joseph progresses to include all the parts of dream prophecy. See the dream, interpret the dream, and lastly suggest a solution.
However, after reading the recounting of Pharaoh’s dreams, one may wonder why the wise men couldn’t explain the dreams. Rashi was puzzled by this and suggests the following reasons why Pharaoh’s counselors didn’t come to the same conclusions as Joseph.
In Egypt, both cattle and the Nile were considered deities. The cattle were considered holy to the Egyptians. Herding them or forcing them into herds was considered an abomination. The Nile was considered a life-force for the community. And the Pharaoh, who was worshipped as a god, was considered god-of-the-Nile.
Commentators also saw the unusual understanding of the grain in the second dream a problem. Growing and preparing the grain for bread was the work of slaves. As such using the concept of growing grain for food was not an idea that concerned the royalty because it was work … work of slaves. Egypt had a slave-based economy. Then, because of the affluence of the royalty, a religious system developed that rejected all forms of physical labor. This labor then became offensive to their religious beliefs.
So, when the wise men of Pharaoh’s court attempted to tell the meaning of the dreams, the fact that much of the dream related to deities and concepts that would have been offensive to Pharaoh, the true meaning of the dreams did not occur to these men. Then, Joseph, who was not bound by these, saw the meanings of the dreams and not only related them to Pharaoh; but also presented solutions. (M’oray Ha’Aish by Rabbi Ari Kahn on Aish.com, http://www.aish.com/tp/i/moha/79160192.html )
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