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Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev 5784

Parashat Hashavua: On Unity, Listening, and National Healing

Harav Yosef Carmel

A chalom (dream) can cause halchama (“soldering” together) between those who share it; dreams can also cause milchama (warring) and hatred.

Yosef’s dreams aroused his brothers’ hatred (Bereishit 37:4-5). The big question is why Yosef was not concerned that his dreams, representing his brother’s bowing down to him, would cause great discord. This not only precipitated, in his personal life, his being sold as a slave, but also historically is linked to the division of the unified Kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms in the time of Rechavam and Yerovam. Chazal also connect this event to the destruction of the two Temples.  

In the past, we discussed the approaches of the Rosh and Abarbanel. We will, this time, reread the Torah’s account of the interaction with new sensitivity. Yosef started the story of the dream with, “We were tying sheaves in the midst of the field, and my sheaf got up and was erect, and your sheaves turned and bowed down toward my sheaf” (ibid. 7). Yosef’s brothers reacted harshly: “Shall you be king over us, or have dominion over us?” (ibid. 8). Reacting to his second dream about the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him, Yaakov scolded Yosef for his dream’s implications (ibid. 10). The stress of the brothers’ criticism was their understanding that Yosef would take steps to subjugate and control his family.

However, Yosef had a different, even opposite, intention. He was trying to give a message of unity, reconciliation, and repair of the existing strained relationship (stemming from his special garment and reporting of their misdeeds). He spoke about “anachnu (we), as Avraham had spoken to Lot (see ibid. 13:8). He meant that even though we are different and have different roles, we were together in the field.

Unfortunately, it took a long time for the brothers to internalize the positive in Yosef’s presentation. After remembering Yosef’s dreams, during the brothers’ unknowing meeting with him in Egypt, they told Yosef, with an unnecessary usage of the word nachnu (short for anachnu): “We are all the sons of one man” (ibid. 42:9-11).

Going back to Yosef’s first dream, they were not just together but tying sheaves in the field. Sheaves symbolize connection and unity, and the field represents, in kabbalistic thought, service of Hashem. Yosef’s message was that if they would work together in the service of Hashem, they would merit a divine revelation. (Yosef described his sheaf as nitzava (standing up), which, we have discussed, is a hint of Divine Presence (see Shemot 19:17; 34:5).). Yosef was careful in his presentation of the bowing down; he was not forcing them to do it, but they decided to do so of their own volition.  True, it was he who would be the leader of this joint service of Hashem.

Unfortunately, Yosef’s vision for the future was not well received. Yosef said one thing; his brothers and father heard another. There was not enough listening. It took many years for the dreams to be fulfilled and for the family to coalesce around Yosef, through which the eventual liberation from Egypt would occur.

On Chanuka, the festival of unifying lights, we pray for effective discussion within the State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption. May we learn how to listen to each other and fulfill unifying dreams together!

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