A significant part of our Parshah (Mikeitz, Genesis 41:1–44:17) is taken up with a pair of dreams dreamt by the king of Egypt. These dreams are actually recounted not once, but three times: first we read an account of the dreams themselves; then comes a more detailed version, as we hear them described by Pharaoh to Joseph; and then comes Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh, in which he offers his interpretation of the dreams’ various components.

And these are but the last in a sequence of dreams detailed by the Torah in the preceding chapters. Joseph is in Pharaoh’s palace interpreting his dreams because of another set of dreams, dreamt two years earlier in an Egyptian prison. Back then, Joseph was incarcerated together with two of Pharaoh’s ministers, each of whom had a dream which Joseph successfully interpreted.

And why was Joseph in that Egyptian prison in the first place? Because eleven years before that, his repeated retelling of his own two dreams had intensified his brothers’ envy of him, provoking them to sell him into slavery. Indeed, Joseph carries every detail of his two dreams with him wherever he goes, and they serve as the basis for his seemingly strange treatment of his brothers and father many years later, when he is ruler of Egypt and his brothers come from famine-stricken Canaan to purchase food (see Nachmanides’ commentary to Genesis 42:9).

The result of all this dreaming is the Egyptian galut (exile)—the first galut experienced by the Jewish people, and the source of all their subsequent exiles. The Children of Israel settled in Egypt, where they were later enslaved by the Egyptians, and where they deteriorated spiritually to the extent that, in many respects, they came to resemble their enslavers. When G‑d came to redeem them, He had to “take a nation from the innards of a nation” (Deut. 4:34), entering into the bowels of Egypt to extract His chosen people from the most depraved society on earth.

In the 3300 years since, we have undergone many more centuries of galut, as we came under the hegemony of Babylonians and Persians, Greeks and Romans, Christians and Communists. We are still in galut today. We may be free, on the whole, of the persecutions and hardships we experienced in earlier generations, but the Jew is still a stranger in the world, still deprived of the environment that nurtures his soul and feeds his aspirations. And galut in all its guises, our sages tell us, is the outgrowth of our first galut in Egypt.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that galut was born out of a succession of dreams because galut is the ultimate dream. A dream is perception without the discipline of reason. Here are all the stimuli and experiences we know from real life: sights and sounds, thoughts and action, exhilaration and dread. Indeed, everything in a dream is borrowed from our waking lives. But everything is topsy-turvy, defying all norms of logic and credulity. In a dream, a tragedy might be a cause for celebration, a parent might be younger than his child, a cow may jump over the moon.

Galut is a dream: a terrible, irrational fantasy embracing the globe and spanning millennia. A dream in which crime pays, the good die young, and G‑d’s chosen people are slaughtered with impunity. A dream in which what is right and true is seldom “realistic,” and nonentities such as “ignorance,” “death” and “evil” are potent forces in our lives.

The surreality of galut pervades our spiritual lives as well. Only in galut can a person arise in the morning, purify himself in a mikvah, pray with ecstasy and devotion, study a chapter of Torah, and then proceed to the office for a business day of connivance and deceit. “Hypocrisy” is not an adequate description of this phenomenon—in many cases his prayer is sincere, and his love and awe of G‑d quite real. But he inhabits the dream-world of galut, where antitheses coexist and inconsistencies are the norm.

In the real world, such absurdities were impossible. When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem and bathed the world in divine daylight, no man with a residue of spiritual impurity (tumah) could approach G‑d until he had undergone a process of purification. That G‑d is the source of life, and that sin (i.e., disconnection from the divine) is synonymous with death, were no mere conceptual truths, but facts of life. In the real world that was, and to which we will awake when the dream of galut will evaporate, the spiritual laws of reality are as apparent and as immutable as—indeed, more apparent and immutable than—the physical laws of nature.

However, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, there is also a positive side to our present-day hallucinatory existence. In the real world, a true relationship with G‑d can come only in the context of a life consistently faithful to Him; in the dream-world of galut, the imperfect individual can experience the divine. In the real world, only the impeccable soul can enter into the sanctuary of G‑d; in the dream-world of galut, G‑d “resides amongst them in the midst of their impurity.”

We daily await the divine dawn that will dispel the cosmic fantasy which, for much of our history, has crippled us physically and spiritually. But in the moments remaining to the dream of galut, let us avail ourselves of the unique opportunity to be “hypocritical” and “inconsistent” in the positive sense: by overreaching our spiritual capacity, by being and doing more than we are able by any rational measure of our merit and potential.