By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
November 30, 2002
Yosef’s rise to greatness is marked by six dreams, in which
Hashem communicates through cryptic images. Yosef develops into an insightful
interpreter of others’ dreams. The brothers regard Yosef’s own dreams, as
projections of Yosef’s offensive inner desires, as our Sages teach:
“A person is shown in his dreams only what his heart thinks about” (Berachot
Note Yosef’s urgency, conveyed by the repetition of "behold":
And Yosef dreamed a dream which he told (VAYAGED) to his
brothers, and they continued to hate him even more. And he said to them, “Hear,
please, this dream I have dreamed. And behold (VEHINEH) we are binding sheaves (ALUMIM)
in the midst of the field, and behold my sheaf (ALUMATI) arises and it also
stands up, and behold your sheaves surround and bow to my sheaf.” And his
brothers said to him, “Will you indeed reign over us? Will you indeed rule over
us?! And they continued further to hate him for his dreams and for his words (Bereishit
The need for grain will bring the brothers to bow before Yosef. Radak (R. David
Kimchi, c. 1160-c. 1235), Ramban and Abravanel (Don Yitzchak Abravanel,
1437-1508) point out an interesting detail that eventually comes to light years
later: this dream foretells that grain will be the family’s salvation.
Why does Yosef tell his brothers his dream? Malbim (R. Meir Leib ben Yechiel
Michael, 1809-1877) answers simply because the dream features them. Chizkuni
(R. Chizkiya ben Manoach, mid 13th Century) argues, on the other hand, that
Yosef tells them so everyone will subsequently know that his rise to prominence
was with Divine assistance. Some commentaries approach this question
psychologically: Radak says Yosef was motivated by spite, while Sforno (R.
Ovadia ben Yaakov Sforno, c. 1470-c.1550) sees only youthful naiveté.
…and behold my sheaf arises and it also stands up (37:7).
Why two verbs (kamah – nitzavah)? Malbim observes, that first the family will be
compelled to show him obeisance, but thereafter they will willingly accede to
his rule. Sforno says these verbs suggest that his rule will be long and stable.
Yosef, in fact, ruled for 80 years, longer than any monarch in the book of
And he dreamed again another dream, and he related (VAYESAPER) it to his
brothers, and he said, “Behold I have dreamed another dream, and behold the sun
and the moon and eleven stars are bowing to me.” And he related (VAYESAPER) it
to his father and to his brothers, and his father rebuked him and said to him,
“What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will we indeed come, I and your
mother and your brothers, to bow to you to the ground?” (9-10).
Radak says the repetition of dreams shows they are prophetic.
Malbim again sees a progression: first only the brothers, and then Yaakov and
the whole family, will bow.
Although the two dreams have the same theme, there are some important
differences between them:
• Yosef told (VAYAGED) his first dream, but he related (VAYESAPER)
the second dream (twice!).
• Yosef relates both dreams without providing interpretation, presumably because
the meaning is obvious. However, the brothers are the interpreters of the first
dream, while Yaakov is the interpreter of the second.
• In the first dream, Yosef is represented by a sheaf, while Yosef himself is a
figure in the second dream.
Characteristically, Malbim sees a difference between the two verbs for
"telling": LE’HAGID means to convey information that concerns the listener and
which he needs to know, while LE’SAPER means to tell a story which has no
personal connection to the listener. Accordingly, Yosef does not relate his two
dreams in the same way. At first, Yosef assumes his brothers love him; he is
oblivious to their hatred. He tells them his first dream, providing them with a
glimpse into their own future, and thinking they would be happy for him. But,
the brothers consider his friendly speech arrogant, and Yosef realizes he has
angered them. So, he tells them the second dream as a story unrelated to them.
He implies it is so far-fetched that it must not be true, nor was the first one.
However, Yosef makes the mistake of repeating his account to his father in his
brothers’ presence. Yaakov is torn: should he interpret the dreams favorably, or
should he try to prevent jealousy among his sons? He rebukes Yosef, suggesting
it is outlandish that a father and mother will bow to their son, and for the
brothers, who are more numerous and greater [even in the dream they are stars,
while Yosef is himself], to bow.
But, Yaakov knows the power of dreams. Many years before, Yaakov, too, dreamed
of a ladder set up on the earth and whose top reaches heavenward (28:12).
Now, Yosef’s two dreams of earth and heaven represent a
bifurcation of his father’s one dream. While Yaakov’s vision can thoroughly
synthesize both the earthly and spiritual realms, Yosef’s two different dreams
must be combined to achieve this synthesis, with only himself and his brothers
as the common image.
Yosef believes that the only way to achieve this combination is by ruling over
his brothers. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), noting different forms
of the word for "sheaf" (ALUMAH) in the first dream, says that each brother ties
his individual small sheaf to assemble large sheaves (ALUMIM), but Yosef’s (ALUMATI)
is recognized as superior and the others assume a submissive role.
During this festival of Chanukah with its themes of disunity among the Jewish
People and the difficulties of maintaining a life of spirituality in a material
world it is important to remember that Yosef’s vision will unite the disparate
elements in his family.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!" - Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
When Yosef went looking for his brothers, the Parshah (37: 15-17) relates
that Yosef got lost and a man found him in the field, and pointed Yosef in
the direction of Dotan. Why do we need to know this seemingly
insignificant detail? So he got lost and someone gave him directions -
what's special about that?
The Rashbam answers that this detail tells something very important about
Yosef. Yosef knew that he was on a dangerous mission and that his brothers
hated him, but out of his love for his father and a desire to fulfill the
mitzvah of kibud av va'eim he went anyway. But once he made the effort and
didn't find them where his father said they would be, he could easily have
gone back home and said he tried but they weren't there. Instead, Yosef
persisted. He found a stranger and actively sought his brothers. Yosef
refused to take the easy way out - to accurately say "I couldn't find
them" - and use it as an excuse to not do something he was afraid of to
We need to learn from Yosef HaTzadik not to be afraid, not to use excuses
in order not to fulfill mitzvot. How many more Jews would be living in
Israel today if every Jew applied this principle of Yosef, instead of
being content to find a good excuse for not making aliya?
Joel Rebibo, Beit El
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh: an initiative of
former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully made Aliyah,
aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting Aliyah. They
send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on speaking-tours
throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320