Dreaming of Reality
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This is the parsha during which everything breaks loose. As if going back
on their word (and destroying Shechem in the process) wasn't enough,
Ya'akov's sons saw fit to sell Yosef into slavery and plunge their father
into 22 years of mourning. And in the midst of all of this, Yehuda
unwittingly became the father of the Moshiach by "accidentally" taking his
past daughter-in-law, Tamar, as a wife. There's certainly what to talk
about in this week's parsha!
The following midrash provides a brief summation:
The tribes were involved with the sale of Yosef;
Yosef was immersed in mournful thoughts about his separation from his father;
Reuven was involved with mourning over his sin;
Ya'akov was mourning for Yosef;
Yehuda was busy taking a wife for himself (Tamar).
And the Holy One, Blessed is He, was busy creating the light of Moshiach.
(Bereishis Rabbah 85:2)
From this midrash, it seems that everyone was acting out the fulfillment of
a master plan they knew about, but yet, were unaware of. But make no
mistake about it-every detail, the good ones and the bad ones, were pieces
in a puzzle that envisioned a glorious redemption and fulfillment of
Stepping back, the above midrash sounds very much like the dreidel played
with on Chanukah, which, unlike the grager of Purim, is spun from the top
to rotate the bottom (the grager is spun from the bottom to rotate the
top). According to the Ta'amei HaMinhagim (Chanukah, 859), which explores
the origins of traditions, this difference between the dreidel and the
grager is not accidental; on the contrary, each was designed to reveal the
nature of the miracle that gave rise to the holiday.
In Mordechai's time, the miracle was a hidden one, coming very much through
nature. It was Mordechai who prompted the miracle, by going out of his way
to antagonize Haman, who, in turn, sought to the destroy the Jewish people.
In the beginning, the Jews questioned Mordechai's dangerous attitude
towards Haman. However, in the end, like all such evil dictators, his
attack on the Jewish people triggered his own demise, albeit quite
miraculously. Mordechai "spun" first from the world below, and that
prompted a miracle from Above.
On the other hand, Mattisyahu was "pulled" into his rebellion against the
Greeks. As the story goes, he had seen a Jew sacrificing an impure animal
on a pagan altar, which incensed him to the point that he killed both the
Jew and the Greek soldier. The result was a perceived rebellion, and a
battle that led to the obvious miracles we mention during Chanukah, first
the one on the battlefield and then of the oil that burned seven extra
days. Heaven "spun" from Above first, and that caused a reaction below.
The story of Yosef and his brothers seems to be a disagreement over which
mode history was in at the time. Was it in the "Purim" mode, or the
"Chanukah" mode? Was it a time to take history into their own hands and
make things happen, or was it a time to see what Heaven was up to, and
respond to that?
From Ya'akov's passive response to Shechem it seems as if he was in a
Chanukah-like mode. From Shimon's and Levi's revenge on Shechem last week,
and the selling of Yosef in this week's parsha, it seems as if the brothers
sided with the Purim mode. In fact, according to the midrash, the brothers
even included G-d in their selling of Yosef, and swore Him to secrecy,
so-to-speak, so that He wouldn't tell Ya'akov about what they had done with
In the end, as the midrash above indicated, Ya'akov and Yosef had been
right all along. While everyone had been running around like "chickens with
their heads cut off," G-d had been masterfully and subtly guiding all the
events like the master orchestrator that He is towards history's grand
finale-the creation of Moshiach. And as a result, whereas the brothers saw
themselves as the saviors and shapers of Jewish destiny, it turned out that
they had been unwitting pawns in G-d's plan to place Yosef in power, and
pave the way for Egyptian oppression, and eventual redemption.
It is a lesson to take to heart. We have to make sure that we are in the
right mode at the right time to work with G-d, and be a real maker of
history. As the brothers will find out a few parshios from now, nothing is
worse than thinking you are the maker of your own destiny, only to find
out, in the end, that you were just a pawn in someone else's.
From the beginning of the parsha, dreams have a lot to do with the
storyline. It was Yosef's dreams that turned the hatred of his brothers
into the kind of jealousy that made them callous enough to sell their
pleading brother into slavery. Later (in next week's parsha), it was
Yosef's dreams that found him favor in prison in Egypt, and which,
eventually, skyrocketed him out of prison to Second-in-Command over Egypt.
The Talmud in Berachos discusses dreams and their interpretations at
length. However, one key statement that raises a question on this week's
parsha is the following: the dream goes after the interpretation. In other
words, dreams are a potential that become actualized once they are
interpreted and verbalized. Otherwise, says the Talmud, they are like an
You will notice that Yosef never bothered to offer an interpretation of his
own dreams. Rather, he simply relayed to the rest of the family each time
what he saw in his dream; it was the brothers first, and then Ya'akov who
interpreted the dreams of the Yosef. If the dreams go after the
interpretation, then, according to the Talmud, it was the brothers who had
pronounced royalty on Yosef with their own interpretation of his dreams! So
why blame Yosef?
This just goes to show you how mistaken perceptions color our perspectives.
The truth is, the brothers had been spiritual giants, being the sons of
Ya'akov, and we can't forget that. They are called the Shivtei Kel-the
Tribes of G-d. What we have to recall always is that our vision of them and
what they did is through G-d's eyes, Who reads hearts; for Torah is His
word as communicated through Moshe. Had we been there with the brothers we
too would have been convinced of their innocence and their reasons for
removing the "threat" from the Jewish people. Instead, looking "through"
G-d's eyes, we are convinced of their guilt and petty jealousy.
However, the brothers had been aware of just who they were, and what was
expected of them. Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov had lived just to produce
them, the fathers of the Twelve Tribes. It was up to them to build the
Jewish kingdom, and all of their time had gone into this historical
However, they had been wrong somewhat about what the final form that
kingdom was supposed to have. Not only did it include the likes of people
like Yosef, but it would eventually be ruled by many of his descendants. In
developing their perspective, they became blind to that potential, and even
though their own minds understood the nature of Yosef's dreams, those same
minds could not accept their inevitable fulfillment. That is why they could
not recognize Yosef when he stood before them as Viceroy of Egypt. And, as
we will see in Parashas Mikeitz, G-d willing, it is also why they could not
correctly interpret the clues Yosef left all over the place for them to use
to discover his secret identity.
It is our mistaken perceptions, and perhaps our hidden desires, that cause
us to misinterpret the world around us, and the events that shape our
lives. They cause us to misjudge people, and ignore messages from G-d that
come to help us grow spiritually. And though such perceptions are usually
formed to protect us and to create a secure world in which we can shelter
ourselves, in the end, they often backfire and leave us more vulnerable
than we could have ever imagined as Yosef's brothers, and many throughout
history have found out ... the hard way.
If you don't work with Divine Providence, then you become a "victim" of it.
At least that's what happened to Yehuda in this week's parsha at the hands
First some background information:
The Torah relates how Yehuda had lost his wife, and had mourned her for
some time. Years earlier, he had lost two of his sons, each of which in
turn had been married to Tamar. Fearing that marriage to Tamar caused his
sons' death, he sent Tamar back to her father's home until Shelah (his
youngest and last son) "grew up," claiming that until then, he shouldn't
marry Tamar. That was never to be, and Tamar had sensed that.
However, Tamar had been bent on being a part of Jewish destiny, and waited
for the time that G-d would oblige her. That time came when, one day,
Yehuda had taken his flocks out to graze in a direction that crossed
Well, almost. Says the midrash, Yehuda's path wouldn't have crossed Tamar's
path had events progressed "naturally." But this was a crucial time in
Jewish history when the seeds of the nation were being planted by G-d
Himself, and to this end an angel had been dispatched to steer Yehuda
towards Tamar, who disguised herself as a woman of hire to catch Yehuda's
attention and desire.
But how could she have known that she would be successful at her ruse? She
had had one shot at this-how did she know that this was the way to go about
contributing to the future destiny of G-d's chosen people, especially in
such an "underhanded" way?
She hadn't. However, she trusted that if G-d wanted her to play a role in
Yehuda's life specifically, and of the Jewish people in general, then all
she had to do was make herself "available" at the right time in the right
way with all the right intentions, and leave the rest up to G-d to arrange.
Unlike Yehuda at the time, she recognized the Divine Providence in all that
had happened to her and her father-in-law, and she patiently waited to
watch events unfold, even if it brought her to the brink of death, which it
did, once Yehuda thought that she had been unfaithful to the family.
In the end, it was Yehuda who had to bow to Divine Providence, and who
exonerated Tamar, admitting that her twins were from him. It had been an
important first stage in Yehuda's tshuva for overlooking the Divine
Providence in Yosef's and his life when he decided to sell the "dreamer"
into slavery. And as we will see in the coming weeks, G-d willing, it will
be Yosef himself who will teach Part Two of this crucial lesson to Yehuda,
and countless generations to come.
"... The well was empty, there was no water inside it." (Bereishis 37:24)
From the fact that it says the well was empty, would it not be clear there
was no water inside? Rather, it teaches you that there was no water inside,
but there were snakes and scorpions. (Shabbos 22a)
What makes this midrash fascinating is that it is found in the only gemora
that deals with Chanukah, and that it follows this halacha:
... Chanukah candles placed higher than twenty amos (about 30 feet) are
possul [they do not fulfill the mitzvah] since the eye cannot see clearly
[something placed at that height].
Is there a connection between the two statements? True, they are both
taught over in the name of the same rabbi. But it is uncanny that the
Talmudists would "randomly" wedge this verse about Yosef and its midrashic
interpretation of it into Chanukah halachos. Perhaps there is another
deeper, yet more subtle connection?
To begin with, why hadn't Yosef's brothers noticed the miracle? Yosef was
sharing space with poisoness roommates, and none were causing him any harm!
Wasn't that a miracle, and don't miracles come from G-d? Perhaps, if they
had seen the miracle, they might have had pause to reconsider their harsh
judgement of his character, and redeem him. Just think of how much
suffering would have been avoided if they had! However, they hadn't noticed
the miracle and had instead let Yosef go as a slave.
Chanukah is a holiday that says: Little is what it appears to be on the
surface. By lighting the candles during the week of Chanukah, we are
committing ourselves to the task of peeking below the surface of people and
ideas to find their inner essence, to determine their validity or
falsehood. Chanukah says,
"Open your mind's eye and see! Until Moshiach comes, G-d's truth must be
sought out and found by the inquisitive and honest mind."
This is, perhaps, why the two statements are juxtaposed in the Talmud. It
is as if to say that the brothers' perception of what was happening on the
"outside" did not line up with what was happening on the "inside." The
olive they could see, but the oil inside they overlooked; Yosef the young
boy they noticed, but the powerful and mature soul inside they missed
entirely. It was if this perception of Yosef was out of their mental
eyeshot, like a menorah placed higher than 20 amos.
It is a confusing world out there. There is a lot of information jostling
for room in our minds, much of it being unnecessary and even false. In an
age saturated with information, never before has it been more crucial to
have a discerning mind, in order to sift through the knowledge looking for
the kernels of truth in order to discard the debris. Never before has the
message of Yosef and his brothers, and of the menorah of Chanukah, been
more relevant than in our generation.