This week's Torah portion introduces us to Yosef (Joseph) and his
understanding of prophetic dreams. Yosef himself had two dreams that further
strained his relationship with his brothers, which was already taxed by
their frustration over the favoritism shown to Yosef by Yaakov (Jacob). In
the first (Beraishis/Genesis 37:5-7), he dreamt that they were sheaving
grain in the field and Yosef's sheave stood up straight and the brother's
sheaves gathered around and bowed down to his. When the brother's heard
this, "The brothers said to him, 'Would you reign over us? Would you
dominate us?' and they hated him even more (37,8)." In the second dream,
Yosef dreamt the sun, moon and eleven stars were bowing down to him (37,9),
and from this vision "the brothers were jealous (37,11)."
A cursory reading would indicate that these two dreams were effectively the
same, similar to Pharaoh's dreams of the cows and the stalks in next week's
portion (41:1-7). But a deeper insight provides a number of disparities
between the two. The first dream has the brothers' sheaves - not the
brothers themselves - bowing to Yosef's sheave - not Yosef himself. This is
different from the second, where the sun, moon and 11 stars - ostensibly
Yosef's parents and brothers - are bowing to Yosef himself. Yaakov even
makes the association explicitly (37:10). Is that change significant?
Furthermore, the first dream spawned hatred while the second caused
Bais HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik; 1820-1892; Rosh
Yeshiva/Dean in Volozhin, and Rabbi of Slutzk and Brisk; considered one of
the most brilliant Talmudists of the nineteenth century) elucidates that the
principle difference between the two dreams is that the first deals with
physical wealth while the second addresses spiritual growth and achievement.
The sheaves of grain were representative of sustenance, saying that the
brothers would need to rely on Yosef for their livelihood. This contrasts
the second, where the stars are an allusion to the constellations and the
divine order of the universe, the world of the spirit.
The brothers understood, explains Rabbi Soloveitchik, that financial success
is meaningless in the true estimation of a persons worth; that in the
ultimate measure, there is no inherent difference between rich and poor. The
saying of his time was, "My closet may be embarrassed before your closet and
my chair before your chair, but I have no reason to be embarrassed before
you." Thus, in this dream, Yosef was not making any substantial claim of
superiority. The claim had no relation to the brothers themselves, only to
their "sheaves", their external wealth. But once the discrepancy related to
the spiritual, Torah study and service of G-d, this was the quintessence of
the human experience. In this realm they felt offended. This challenged
their core essence. It was they who were bowing, not simply an externality.
With this Rabbi Soloveitchik appreciates the different reactions. The
brothers, as a unit, had no desire to have any one lording over any of the
others. Thus, Yaakov's apparent favoritism of Yosef bothered them so, and
the dream about the sheaves only served to anger them further. But there was
no basis for jealousy. Until the second dream came. Yosef's claim to
spiritual superiority had no basis for hatred, but it did evoke jealousy.
But even then, their jealousy was NOT the crass jealousy we relate to.
Proverbs (23:17) praises constructive envy, one that motivates toward sacred
pursuits, "Do not let your heart envy the sinners, rather [let it envy]
those who revere G-d all day long."
The fundamental precepts of the brothers' existence were the fallacious
value of the material and the imperative of spiritual development. This
truth was so ingrained in the nucleus of their being that the "threat" of a
brother's exceptional wealth was a mere annoyance and the prospect of his
tremendous piety was an opportunity for growth.