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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: The Dangers of Dominion

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our parasha, Yosef is called the “man of dreams” (Bereishit 37:19). We have discussed in the past that all the dreams in Sefer Bereishit are prophecies. By means of his dreams, Yosef declared himself the next leader and in essence turned the special cloak that his father made for him into royal clothes. These dreams played a major role in Yosef’s downfall, being thrown into a pit by his brothers. When he got out and worked his way up the ladder in Potiphar’s house, his visibility landed him in the pit that was an Egyptian jail. Only when he stopped dreaming and instead started interpreting the dreams of others (Pharaoh’s officers and then Pharaoh) did he actually become lifted into leadership.

This story has a fascinating parallel, more than a thousand years later, in the life of the Jewish courtier, Daniel. He too was exiled from his land as a captive. Due to his ability to interpret the dreams of the ruler (Nevuchadnetzar), he obtained a high stature. While we will not go into detail about other similarities between Yosef and Daniel, we will look at a fundamental difference between them.

While Yosef started his “dream career” as a dreamer and continued as a dream interpreter, Daniel started as an interpreter and only later in Sefer Daniel do we see him having prophetic dreams (until chapter 5, he interpreted dreams; in chapter 6, he stood the moral test and was thrown into the lion’s den; from chapter 7 and on, he tells his prophecies.). The more logical order is that of Daniel, to rise from the lower level of interpreting to the higher level of receiving prophecy. Why, then, does Yosef go in the opposite direction?

It would seem that the answer is that power and dominion are liable to be spiritually destructive. This is one of the biggest problems that mankind has had to deal with throughout history. Yosef should not have allowed his dreams, even if they were prophetic in nature, to cause a situation where his brothers hated him because they felt he wanted them to bow down before him. This is as the brothers complained to him: “Will you be king over us or rule us” (Bereishit 37:8). In the dream, not only did his brothers bow down to him, but so did even his parents and, perhaps, the entire universe. Therefore, it is no surprise that his adoring father joined in the criticism of Yosef. In the dreams and their presentation there is not even a mention of Hashem as the one who gives man dominion. This apparent haughtiness is what Chazal refer to elsewhere as silsul b’sa’aro (lit., playing with his hair). This is one of the things that brought Yosef down to the level of a dream interpreter. Yosef learned the lesson to the fullest degree and openly told the dreamers: “Alas, Hashem has the solutions” (ibid. 40:8) and “It is not from me; Hashem will answer the peace of Pharaoh” (ibid. 41:16).

May we merit having leaders who understand that their stature is from Hashem and view themselves as servants of the people (as Rav Kook said and practiced) instead of rulers over them.

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