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And Yosef had a dream and told it to his brothers Behold we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field; and behold my sheaf rose and stood up erect; and behold your sheaves surrounded it and bowed to my sheaf And he had another dream Behold the sun; the moon and eleven stars were bowing to me. (Bereishis 37:5-9)
The parsha begins with the two dreams of Yosef. Due to their similarity it appears that the interpretation of the dreams were the same. The simple interpretation as indirectly suggest by Yaakov was that Yosef would rule over his brothers. It appears that it took twenty-two years for this to be fulfilled. This happened when the brothers descended to Mitzrayim to buy grain and found themselves bowing before their brother Yosef.
It is interesting that in parshas mekeits we learn that Pharaoh also had two dreams. Yosef there was asked to provide an interpretation. After succeeding in providing an interpretation that was satisfactory to Pharaoh, Yosef added that the significance of a double dream was that their fulfillment was imminent. With this rule in mind we may ask, why did it take twenty-two years for Yosefs own dreams to be fulfilled? Does not the same rule of interpretation apply to the dreams of the interpreter himself?
Let us make another observation. It is noteworthy that this parsha concludes with the dreams of the chief butler and chief baker. Here, Yosef serves as the interpreter. Looking at the parsha in its totality it is interesting to note that that it begins with Yosef as the great dreamer and concludes with Yosef as the great interpreter. Can there perhaps be some significance in this observation?
Before we attempt to answer these questions we must lay out some background.
First let us note that it is impossible for a person to be truly objective with regard to himself. For example, in the realm of Halacha we are aware that a potential judge or witness that has something to gain or lose by the outcome of a case is disqualified from participating in that case. This is true no matter how pious and disciplined the individual may be. The reason being is that Halacha recognizes that the depth of the subconscious is beyond our grasp and it is truly impossible for a person to be impartial with regard to himself. However, there is an exception. This is where an individual expresses his opinion with regard to someone other than himself not realizing that he himself fits into the exact same category. Here we may assert that the same standard that he used with regard to another can be justly applied to himself.
This idea is clearly illustrated in sefer Shmuel (Shmuel II 11,12). In the aftermath of the incident involving Dovid Hamelech and Bas Sheva, Nosson Hanavei appeared and asked Dovid to issue judgment on a rather simple case of theft. After Dovid issued his guilty verdict, Nosson responded that the guilty party was none other than Dovid himself. The hypothetical case conjured by Nosson was an exact parallel to Dovids wrongdoing and Dovid had thus objectively declared himself guilty. We derive from this that when one judges another; in truth he is judging himself.
Second, at the conclusion of the parsha Yosef the great interpreter was presented with the two dreams of the chief butler and chief baker. Despite there similarity Yosef interpreted their dreams entirely differently. The difference was literally as great as life and death. We may ask, what fine point in their seemingly similar dreams inspired Yosef to offer entirely different interpretations. The commentators explain that the difference lay in the activity or inactivity of the chief butler and chief baker. The chief butler in his dream was active. He was actively involved in serving the king. To Yosef this intimated that the chief butler would be reinstated to his original position. On the other hand the chief baker in his dream was inactive. The chief baker stood motionless as the activity of the dream took place around him. This subtle detail was the underlying element in the dream that led Yosef to interpret that the chief baker would be put to death and indeed remain inactive for good.
Now with this background in mind let us return to our questions as to why it took so long for Yosefs dreams to be fulfilled and what significance lay in the parsha beginning and concluding with Yosef as the great interpreter and great dreamer. Let us note that towards the conclusion of the parsha Yosef finds himself in prison. This event was the culmination of sequence of tragedies that befell Yosef. He first narrowly escaped for his life from his brothers. He was then sold as a slave and was now a prisoner only due to false slander. At this trying moment in his life surely we may suggest that Yosef reflected back on the glorious days of youth when he enjoyed the extra special attention and affection of his father. He certainly recalled his great double dream that promised him nothing less then imminent grandeur and was perplexed at how all this could have had happened to him after his dreams indicated quite to the contrary. Surely Yosef realized that there must have been a misinterpretation of his dreams. Perhaps he was prejudiced in interpreting his own dreams no matter how obvious the interpretation may have seemed to be. The only solution to reconcile his dreams with reality would be to present them to a world-renowned dream interpreter for reinterpretation. However, now imprisoned, he was surely unlikely to receive such assistance.
Unbeknown to Yosef, Hashem in his great wisdom saw to it that Yosef presently in prison be provided with the greatest dream interpreter of all time, none other then Yosef himself. The reinterpretation of his dreams would be completely objective because Yosef would only reinterpret his dreams indirectly by first interpreting the dreams of others, namely the chief butler and chief baker, and then realize that in their interpretation lay the key to interpreting his own dreams.
The difference between the two dreams of the chief butler and chief baker was that one was active and the other was inactive. Yosef must have contemplated that the same subtle point was found in his own dreams. In the first dream of Yosef the posuk records that Yosef was also active. The posuk states Behold we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field. Yosef participated in the activity as well. Next, the posuk goes on to states And behold my sheaf rose and stood up erect. Here again the sheaf that represents Yosef was active not passive. However in the second dream the posuk states simply Behold the sun; the moon and eleven stars were bowing to me, which implies that Yosef was inactive as the sun, moon and stars bowed to him. Thus, using the same rule of interpretation for the two dreams of the baker and butler Yosef came to realize that he also did not have two dreams that were exactly the same but two completely different dreams.
Perhaps we may suggest that the first dream that involved activity, the symbol of life, may be interpreted that in Yosefs lifetime the brothers would be subservient to him. This was fulfilled when the brothers came down to Egypt and Yosef sustained them all. The second dream of inactivity, the symbol of death represented a prophecy that even in Yosefs death the entire nation will be subservient to him. This was also fulfilled at the time of the splitting of the sea where chazal teach us that the sea only split when it saw the bones of Yosef.
Regardless of the exact interpretation one thing remains obvious. There were two separate dreams not one. Therefore, there was no repetition that would indicate that fulfillment was imminent.
We have thus answered our two questions. Contrary to our original understanding, Yosef in truth had two separate dreams not one; therefore, there was nothing unusual in the fact that the dream had not yet been fulfilled. In fact, realizing that the dreams had not yet been fulfilled offered Yosef hope that they will one day be fulfilled. We have also answered our second question as to why the parsha begins with Yosef in the role of the great dreamer and concludes with Yosef as the great interpreter. The parsha begins with Yosef having dreams and concludes with Yosef interpreting his own dreams.
The powerful message we derive is twofold. Form Dovid and Nosson we learn that a person is instrumental in his own judgment. The same standard one uses in dealing with others is the standard that will be applied for himself. From Yosef we see in a symbolic sense that one can discover his own true self when attempting to discover someone else. By participating in the social welfare of another, one is in truth clarifying his own identity.