|Weekly Torah Portion
The last two of the ten dreams to appear in the book of Bereishit are those of Pharaoh. Joseph interprets his dreams and in so doing rose to be the de facto ruler of Egypt. Both of Pharaoh’s dreams are similar. In his first dream he sees seven healthy cows emerge from the Nile and graze when seven other ugly and skinny cows emerge from the Nile and consume the seven healthy ones. His second dream is of seven healthy ears of grain sprouting on one stalk of wheat followed by seven unhealthy ones. The thin ones, scorched by an eastern wind, consume the healthy ones (Genesis 41:1-7). He called his advisors, but none could interpret the dreams. Rashi states that there were interpretations, but Pharaoh did not like them.
It is explained that along with the dream Pharaoh was also given its meaning, but he forgot it upon waking. When he hears Joseph’s interpretation it rang true to him for deep within he knew it was the correct interpretation. This is an extremely important point, for many times the meaning of our dreams are quite obvious to us, while other times we know intuitively the meaning of our own dreams when they are properly interpreted.
Chassidut teaches that everything in Torah is an allusion to how to best serve God and how to bring out the best within us. The Slonimer Rebbe in Netivot Shalom, explains that the seven good cows and seven good ears of grain represent our good characteristics, while the unhealthy ones represent our evil inclination. We must always be on the guard lest all our good works and intentions are consumed by our baser desires. After Pharaoh’s first dream the Torah mentions that he fell back to sleep when he dreamt a second time. This, the Slonimer Rebbe teaches, emphasizes that even when we awake and initiate a change of priorities we may still fall back to sleep, slipping once again into old habits and negative traits.
It is significant to note again, as pointed out in the portion of Vayeitze, that after Jacob dreamt of a ladder reaching the heavens and God appeared to him, he awoke exclaiming: “Surely God is in this place and I did not know.” He not only did not fall back to sleep but was fully aware that God had not only appeared to him in a dream but immediately integrated the message that God was ever present in his life.
The Slonimer Rebbe continues to explain that the cows and the description in the dreams of their flesh symbolize our carnal desires, while the grain represents our desire for eating. These, according to Chassidut, are the two main drives in man and have the power to consume the Divine soul when not properly rectified. Rebbe Elimelech of Lyzhansk commented that the verse describing the brothers going down to Egypt to obtain food is symbolic of the soul descending into this world. The verb used “to obtain” the food is the same root as “to break.” He explains that the soul is sent into this world with the challenge of breaking the hold of the physical world in order to infuse physicality with spiritual energy and content. This process subsequently propels the soul to an even higher spiritual level than if it had not come into this world. In the Talmud it is taught that God exclaims: “I created the evil inclination and I created the Torah as its remedy” (Kiddushin 30). The Torah is the source of ongoing advice and strength as how to overcome man’s baser desires and how to rise to new soul heights.
Joseph symbolizes the ability to overcome and transmute these desires for the good. It was he who overcame the advances of the wife of Potifar, while he became the ruler of Egypt through his interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh. His wise advice as how to save grain during the years of plenty so there would be what to eat in the years of famine represents his ability to control the forces that fuel the desire to eat.
Joseph becomes the eternal symbol of how we can rise above the cravings of the body and how the intellect should rule over the emotions. We do not attempt to annihilate the natural needs of the body yet we must learn not to be a slave to them. By conquering these forces Joseph rises from a slave to ruler of Egypt.