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Parshas Vayeishev

The Fear of Fear

By Rabbi Label Lam

The Chamberlain of the Bakers saw that he had interpreted well, so he said to Joseph, “I too! In my dream- behold! Three wicker baskets were on my head. And in the uppermost basket were all kinds of Pharaoh’s food- baker’s handiwork- and the birds were eating them from above my head.” Joseph responded and said, “This is its interpretation: The three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift your head from you and hang you on a tree: birds will eat your flesh from you.” (Breishis 40:16- 19)

How did Joseph know that “the baker” would be put to death? What in the dream indicated that this would be his ill-fated end? The Dubner Maggid, with one of his famous parables, gives us what may be the key to Joseph’s unerring analytical processes.

There was an artist so talented that could paint a picture with such realism that it was often impossible to distinguish it from actual life. Once he drew a scene that portrayed a man standing in an open field with a basket of bread on top of his head. The painting was so life-like. He presented it to the king. The king, so proud of his new acquisition, offered a handsome reward for anyone who could find any fault in the painting. The painting was so real that actual birds were swooping down to try to eat the bread in the painting.

Many challengers came and tried to earn the prize money but no one was successful in finding a single flaw in the painting. It was too- too perfect. Then a wise old man approached the painting. He observed the phenomena of the birds trying to eat the bread pictured atop the head of the man portrayed in the painting. In a moment, he had discovered a serious problem with the realism of this painting and it was he who won the prize.

He simply pointed out that if the birds are trying to eat the bread atop the man’s head then there is something wrong with the picture of the man. He reasoned that if the birds would perceive the portrait of the man as being true to life, then they would be too scared to approach the bread. Whatever the fault may be, it is unknown but the birds do not take this man to be real.

So it was that Joseph had noticed that the birds were eating off the basket in the dream of “the baker” and if the birds are eating from his bread basket then he is no longer to be considered alive.

As opposed to the “the butler’s” dream where he was actively squeezing grapes and serving wine, “the baker”, in his dream, is passive. And so it happened that these two men met with differing fates as foreshadowed in each of their dreams. One pictures himself as a helpless victim of external circumstances. The birds swoop down and take at will while he remains a non-entity in his own life- circumstance. The other sees himself as a player and a doer- taking responsible action in his familiar role as “the butler”. And as they envisioned it, so it came to be!

Joseph was able to see the self-fulfilling prophecy imbedded in the dream of each. As is written, “For the thing which I had dreaded has come upon me and that which I was frightened of has come to me” (Job 3:25) Sometimes it is the fear of a thing that invites the disaster. The fear of rejection and failure will often deliver both. And so too as the length of a day continually shrinks at this time of year, some, so to speak, sit fearful of being swallowed up by night- cursing the darkness and wallowing in prognostications of doom and gloom while another takes meaningful action- lighting a Mitzvah-Candle, chasing away darkness by casting out the fear of fear.

Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Label Lam and



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