Dreams play a major role in both this week’s and last week’s parashot. In this week’s reading, Pharaoh says to Yosef (41:15), “I dreamed a dream, but no one can interpret it.” R’ Nosson Meir Wachtfogel z”l (1910-1998; mashgiach ruchani of Bet Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J.) asks: What did Pharaoh mean by “no one can interpret it”? Rashi writes that Pharaoh’s advisers offered him several different interpretations!
R’ Wachtfogel answers: The Gemara (Berachot 55b) teaches that the meaning of a dream depends on the interpretation given to it. Some dreams are not good or bad; rather, their fulfillment depends on their interpretation. If a person interprets his dream as a good “prophecy,” that good may actually come to him. On the other hand, if he interprets the dream as bad tidings, that bad may befall him.
In Pharaoh’s case, his advisers did offer him several interpretations of his dreams. For example, they suggested that he would father seven daughters who would then die. However, Pharaoh didn’t want to have seven daughters who would die, and he didn’t like the other interpretations either; therefore, he insisted that no one was able to interpret his dreams.
R’ Wachtfogel explains further: When Hashem causes a person to dream, He is giving the person raw materials with which to “build” a future. This is why there are prayers by which a person asks that a “bad” dream turn “good.” One can’t simply wish a dream away, just as one who has his hands full of building materials can’t pretend that his hands are empty. The building materials must be used for something –whether good or bad–and so must the dream.
The Gemara teaches that a person should wait as long as 22 years for a dream to come true (the number of years Yosef waited for his brothers to bow to him). Just as a dream may be compared to building materials, so it may be compared to a seed, and a person who plants seeds must wait for them to germinate. (Kovetz Sichot II)
- “Pharaoh sent and he called Yosef. . .” (41:14)
The Zohar asks: Should it not have said, “Pharaoh sent to call Yosef”? The Zohar answers that “he called” has the same meaning here as in Vayikra (1:1), “He called to Moshe.” Hashem called Yosef out of prison, i.e., He designated Yosef to fulfill a certain calling.
R’ Yaakov Yisrael Halevi Stern z”l (18th century; maggid /preacher in Kremenets, Volhynia, now Ukraine) writes: Based on this we can understand a seemingly redundant phrase in Tehilim (105:20), “He sent a king who released him, a ruler of peoples who freed him.” The first phrase, “He sent a king who released him,” refers to Pharaoh’s action, while the second phrase, “a ruler of peoples who freed him,” refers to Hashem’s action.
Alternatively, writes R’ Stern, the verse is answering a different question: Why did the butler remind Pharaoh that he and the baker had sinned and been thrown into prison? Instead, the butler could have gone to the prison, asked Yosef the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream (pretending it was the butler’s own dream), and revealed the meaning to Pharaoh in his own name, thus earning all the glory! R’ Avraham Yechiel Michel z”l (died 1730; author of Nezer Ha’kodesh) answers that kings dream about matters of state, while individuals dream about private matters. Had the butler pretended it was his own dream, he would not have been given the correct interpretation.
Still, R’ Stern asks, the butler could have told Yosef that he was an agent of an anonymous king who dreamt this dream about cows and wheat. Why did the butler have to say that it was Pharaoh’s dream? Our verse answers that Pharaoh was “a ruler of peoples.” As such, the meanings of his dreams differed not only from the dreams of commoners, but also from those of ordinary kings. If Yosef had not been told the true identity of the dreamer, he could not have interpreted the dream. (Shevet Mi’Yisrael)
- “Reuven told his father, saying, ‘You may put to death my two sons if I fail to bring him [Binyamin] back to you. Put him in my care and I will return him to you’.” (42:37)
Commentaries wonder: How could Reuven even suggest such a thing? R’ Moshe Eliezer Dan Ralbag z”l (Yerushalayim; 1832-1895) answers in the name of R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin z”l (1818-1898; rabbi of Brisk, Poland; later in Yerushalayim): Reuven meant that, if he failed to bring Binyamin back, Yaakov should strip him (Reuven) of his birthright. A bechor / firstborn son inherits a share equal to “two sons,” and losing one’s wealth is referred to in the Torah as “death” (see Rashi to Shmot 4:19). Thus, Reuven meant: Strip from me the status of being equal to two sons if I do not bring Binyamin back.
Why did Reuven suggest this consequence, of all things? He explains: Reuven was the firstborn of his mother, Leah, and Yosef was the firstborn of his mother, Rachel. Rachel was Yaakov’s favorite wife. Thus, with Yosef missing, one might expect Yaakov to transfer the birthright to Rachel’s second son: Binyamin. In turn, Reuven might have an incentive to make Binyamin disappear. Therefore Reuven said: “I hereby repudiate any claim on the birthright in the event that Binyamin does not return.” (Quoted in B’tuv Yerushalayim p.370)
- “Anyone among your servants with whom it [Yosef’s goblet] is found shall die, and we also will become slaves to my lord.”
“He replied, ‘What you say now is also correct. The one with whom it is found shall be my slave, but the rest of you shall be exonerated’.” (44:9- 10)
How could Yosef’s servant say to Yosef’s brothers, “What you say now is also correct,” and then go on to contradict them? R’ Noach Rabinowitz z”l (Lithuania; 1839-1901) explains:
In a close case, a judge may consider evidence of the accused’s character to help him decide whether to convict or acquit. In contrast, when the police are investigating a crime, they are interested solely in the evidence. The police do not refrain from following a lead just because it leads to a person who has an impeccable reputation.
Yosef’s brothers argued that they should not be investigated on suspicion of stealing Yosef’s goblet. After all, they said in the immediately preceding verse, “The money that we found in the mouth of our sacks we brought back to you from the land of Canaan. How then could we have stolen from your master’s house any silver or gold?” They were not suggesting that the one who had the goblet should die and the others should become slaves; they were expressing their fear that that would be the result. Therefore, they asked to be excluded from the investigation on the basis of their proven honesty.
Yosef’s servant said, “What you say is correct!” Your good character will be taken into account when you are judged, and your sentences will be reduced or commuted. “The one with whom it is found shall be my slave, but the rest of you shall be exonerated.” However, you must still be investigated. (Toldot Noach)
- In previous weeks, we have examined the halachic controversy surrounding the “hetter mechirah,” the sale of the Land of Israel to a non-Jew for the shemittah year. We have seen that the majority of authorities hold that the mitzvah of shemittah does not apply today according to Torah law; rather, it is “only” a rabbinic decree or, some say, a custom. Therefore, some authorities consider the sale of the Land a valid means of avoiding shemittah restrictions in the name of furthering the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Other authorities oppose the sale as unnecessary or as being contrary to the halachah prohibiting the sale of land in Eretz Yisrael to a non-Jew. Finally, some authorities hold that the sale is ineffective because it is not sincere or because it is not enforceable under secular law.
This week we examine a final question: assuming that the sale is both permitted and effective, what is permitted as a result? Indeed, what exactly is the halachic status of land owned by a gentile in Eretz Yisrael?
The Gemara (Gittin 47a) records a dispute between the Sages whether a gentile’s acquisition of land in Eretz Yisrael is effective such that that parcel of land is no longer subject to the Torah’s agricultural laws. Of course, the gentile himself is not obligated to observe halachah; according to one opinion, however, a Jew who buys the gentile’s produce that grew in Eretz Yisrael must separate terumah and ma’aser from that produce. If it grew in the shemittah year, the Jew would have to treat the gentile’s produce as shemittah produce.
Halachic authorities disagree how we rule in this matter; indeed, since Rambam z”l did not state his opinion unambiguously in his Code, later authorities disagree how he ruled (see Kessef Mishneh to Hil. Shemittah V’yovel 4:29). Thus, some contemporary authorities hold that a gentile’s land has the same sanctity as a Jew’s land (see Ohr Le’Zion: Shevi’it p.18).
At least nowadays, when shemittah is not a Torah commandment, many authorities support the lenient view: that land in Eretz Yisrael owned by a gentile loses its sanctity for purposes of the agricultural mitzvot. This is the opinion of the Vilna Gaon z”l (Be’ur Ha’Gra: Yoreh Deah 331:28).
Still the question remains: assuming that the gentile’s land loses its sanctity, does that mean only that its produce does not have the sanctity of shemittah produce? Or, would we even go so far as permitting a Jew to work that field during the shemittah year? This, too, is the subject of a disagreement. R’ Baruch z”l (Worms, Germany; 1170-1211) ruled that land owned by a gentile may be worked by a Jew, while others disagree. Accordingly, when R’ Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor z”l issued the first hetter mechirah in 1889, he wrote: “The work in the fields should be done by a non- Jew. However, if there are poor people who cannot afford to hire non-Jewish workers, we will discuss the matter with the other sages [involved in the matter].” Some have suggested a compromise: prohibiting a Jew from performing those activities in the field that would have been prohibited by Torah law if the shemittah applied according to Torah law–that is, plowing, planting and harvesting–but permitting Jews to perform other work (for example, weeding) on land that was sold to a gentile.
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