Parshas Mikeitz (5770)
You remember the famous Irving Berlin song – “I'm Dreamin' of a White Chanukah”? Well, this week's Torah portion tells a story about Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and what he was dreamin' about. And it's a very strange story indeed.
Pharaoh has this seemingly silly dream about seven fat cows being swallowed up by seven skinny ones, and another dream about seven healthy, full ears of grain being consumed by seven thin ears. And if that's not ridiculous enough, Pharaoh then calls together his entire cabinet and all the wisest men of the land to discuss the possible meaning of these dreams! Don't you think he would be a little embarrassed to relate to them such insignificant and childish dreams that are obviously the product of a very fertile imagination?
My late grandfather, Rabbi Joseph Baumol zt”l, once explained as follows: To gain some insight into the dreams of Pharaoh, it might help to examine other great Biblical personalities and the dreams that they had. The first great person to dream in the Torah was Jacob - and he had two of them. His first dream was about the ladder that was set earthward and its top reached heaven ward, and angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it. This dream was of a spiritual nature, reflecting Jacob's connection to G-d and the Higher Worlds. His second dream was more rooted in the physical world. He said, “I raised my eyes and saw in a dream - Behold! The he-goats that mounted the flock were ringed, speckled, and checkered ....” (Genesis 31:10). In this dream, Jacob saw how G-d was watching over his sheep, enabling him to gain material wealth.
Joseph also had two dreams - one dream in which eleven sheaves were bowing down to his sheaf, and another in which the sun, the moon, and eleven starts were bowing down to him. The first dream symbolized Joseph's acquisition of great material wealth, so much so that his own brothers would bow to him because of their need for grain, while the second talks of Joseph's more spiritual aspirations for greatness.
So there seems to emerge a pattern among the great personalities of ancient times in which they would dream of both material and spiritual pursuits simultaneously. It was only natural, therefore, for Pharaoh to assume when he had two dreams, that one dream would be of a material nature while the other represented spiritual greatness. So Pharaoh took these dreams very seriously, and even convened a meeting of his wisest counselors to see if they could interpret the exact messages of these two dreams.
When their interpretive efforts failed to satisfy Pharaoh, Joseph was brought in to give it a shot. So the first thing Joseph tells him is - "Pharaoh, you are making a big mistake in thinking that you are in the company of other great Biblical personalities who dreamed of both material and spiritual greatness - 'Chalom Paraoh echad hu' (see Genesis 41:25) - your two dreams in reality are only one dream repeated twice. Your dreams are purely materialistic in nature, representing the years of plenty and the years of famine that are to come. You have no connection to spirituality; hence your dreams are limited to material wealth and nothing more.”
Each and every one of us has dreams - dreams of great and promising careers, big houses, exotic vacations, dreams for ourselves, dreams for our children ("my son, the doctor") - and it is imperative to the human condition that we have these dreams and aspirations. The greatest of our people had such dreams as well. But let's not forget that, at the same time, these great people also dreamed of ladders to the heavens and of becoming more refined and G-dlike.
These two dreams don't have to conflict with each other. As we climb the corporate ladder of material success, we should remember not to neglect our spiritual goals as well. We can take some time off during our busy work schedule to climb a different ladder - the kind of ladder that Jacob dreamed about, which connects us with our more spiritual side and with G-d. Maybe we can join a Torah class, or just take some time during the day to read a book of Jewish content (like the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, for example. It is extremely readable and you can gain so much knowledge of the Torah by just reading a page of it a day!).
As we help our children realize their (and our) dreams of success in life, we can simultaneously give them the opportunity to dream about spiritual greatness. Maybe we can read to them stories of great Jewish men and women who did special things and lived their lives for others - which is the essence of spirituality. And we can teach them to appreciate the wisdom and insight of the Torah by appreciating it ourselves and involving ourselves in more study. Let our children dream about being great and special as they dream about being successful and prominent.
We should never sell ourselves and our kids short. What we dream about reflects greatly on who we are. Maybe Pharaoh just didn't "get the spiritual thing". But we are the descendants of that “dream team” Jacob and Joseph, and their legacy of greatness in both the material and spiritual realms is for all of us to emulate and aspire to.