This week introduces Yosef1 against the background of an action packed Sedra of dreams, murder, slavery and attempted seduction. Yosef, his father’s favorite son, brought bad reports to his father about his brothers. Upset with him, they resolved to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery. Ultimately sold into Mitzrayim (Egypt), he is unsuccessfully tempted by the wife of his employer.

Both Yosef and the brothers were all tzaddikim, and everything that happened was actually motivated by good. Many aspects of the story which seem contrary to this are explained in Chassidus where the seeming contradictions are resolved. In this chapter we will look at only one facet of the diamond of Torah, discussing the dreams and how they apply to a Jew in this week.

The first of Yosef’s dreams2 is that eleven sheaves of wheat bow down to one sheaf. Seemingly insensitive, Yosef repeats his dream to his eleven brothers, explaining that they are the eleven sheaves and he is the one sheaf to whom they are bowing. Unimpressed by the dream and his interpretation, they apparently bare him ill will. The second dream is that the sun, moon and eleven stars bow down to him. This time he repeats his dream both to his brothers and his father all of whom, understandably, react extremely negatively.

In next week’s Sedra, Pharaoh also dreams two dreams. He first dreams of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows. The seven skinny cows consume the seven fat cows and yet remain skinny. His second dream was of seven fat ears of corn consumed by seven meager, ugly ones with no improvement to the consuming corn.

The secrets of Torah behind these two dreams are critically relevant for a Jew’s understanding of himself and this is specially possible this week.

Before dealing with these revelations it is as well to understand that today dreams have little predictive value and are merely a reflection of a person’s mental set during the day. As such they can be valuable. It is well known that sophisticated problem solving sometimes occurs in dreams while asleep. Nevertheless as prophecy they are simply nonsense.

Another piece of vocabulary required to understand the concepts described in this chapter is this; since the time of the giving of the Torah on Har Sinai , each generation is one step lower spiritually than the one before. An important and deep matter to realize is that in order that each man be tested equally, mankind’s previous experience must be balanced in some way. Given the library of learning on, say, kashrus for example, a man must have distractions to compensate and give him a negative alternative — otherwise a man in the twentieth century would have an unfair advantage over the man in the tenth in relation to learning about kashrus. Just as we have a library on kashrus therefore, we have a plethora of things to distract us from learning that library. The television programs will, if permitted, rob a man of more and more time to access the library. Each generation in fact finds it more difficult to achieve the level of spiritually achieved by the one before it. Conversely, those people who achieve spirituality now, achieve incomparable greatness. There is a Midrash which explains that Moshe Rabbeinu looked down the generations and was jealous of the generation before Moshiach. In that time of crushing spiritual darkness, people were still learning and keeping Torah almost not knowing what they were doing and why.

There is another extraordinary fact; coupled with each generation being lower spiritually is the fact that the revelation of obvious G‑dliness diminishes in each generation. When G‑dliness was openly revealed, there needed to be a counter-balancing factor, again to maintain free choice. In our generation, there is little or no revelation of magic because there is little or no revelation of obvious G‑dliness. There is therefore no need for the counter-balance of magic. At a time however that Moshe Rabbeinu could invoke G‑d’s revelation to convert a staff into a snake, the Egyptians’ magicians needed to be able to achieve the same thing in order to preserve a level of free choice in all the witnesses.

Now, during the time of open, revealed prophecy, dreams had corresponding predictive force. When prophecy was extinguished, dreams ceased having value to forecast the future.

Being that the Torah was given amidst great revelation of G‑dliness, in an era of almost commonplace prophecy, the dreams of Yosef and Pharaoh were totally and deeply meaningful.

As will be constantly repeated in this book, Torah is eternal and applies to every Jew in every generation from the time of Mattan Torah until now. The dreams that Yosef dreamt are relevant to every Jew in every generation and the dreams that Pharaoh dreamt are relevant to every non-Jew in every generation. Understanding these dreams is a key to understanding one’s own spiritual personality.

The Rebbe explains that both of Pharaoh’s dreams have the same intention and nothing is really specifically different in either of those dreams. The seven fat cows, seven fat corns, seven skinny cows, seven skinny corns are repeated only to consolidate the importance of the meaning of those dreams.

With Yosef however, although the dreams appear alike, the Rebbe explains they are very different. Yosef’s dreams progress from the earthly to the heavenly. In other words, the first dream is about sheaves (farming the ground). The second dream of sun, moon and stars is about the heavens. The task of Am Yisrael is to elevate the ground through the vegetative domain, through the animal dominion to its completion in a human being learning Torah and performing mitzvos. Just as G‑d made the physical from the spiritual, a Jew takes the physical and makes from it something spiritual. Yosef’s dreams follows this pattern; the first dream is about earth, and the second about the heavens.

Pharaoh’s dreams are the exact reverse, the first dream is animals, the second dream about vegetation. Pharaoh’s first dream is about one level of creation, his second dream a lower level of creation. His is a descending order of creation. The order of the dreams of Yosef is an ascending order.

The Rebbe explains this to be code for the fundamental difference between Jew and non-Jew. It is totally legitimate for Gentiles to work from cows to corn. Theirs is the sacred task of building the world. The clearing and planting of vegetation, the building of cities, the introduction of technology and the harnessing of the earth’s and man’s resources has been their mission, wonderfully accomplished.

The job of Am Yisrael is to elevate the earth into the heavens and to connect these two states. Our task is to connect gashmius (physicality) with ruchnius (spirituality) and this is the blueprint of the two sets of dreams.

There is a famous story told about the Rebbe Rashab, father of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. When he was a little boy playing with his brother, there arose disagreement in relation to the service to G‑d of Jews and Gentiles. The Rebbe Maharash, hearing the dispute, assembled the boys and called in his Russian gentile wagon driver. The Rebbe asked him had he yet eaten breakfast. The wagon driver expressed his appreciation to his employer, assuring him that he had. The Rebbe then asked him why he ate.

“To live” came the response.

“And why do you live?” asked the Rebbe.

“To eat” triumphed the solid wagon driver.

The Rebbe then called his shammes (assistant) and again asked about breakfast and received a similar assurance. The Rebbe then asked him why he ate.

“To live” came the response.

“And why do you live?” asked the Rebbe.

“To serve G‑d” came the measured and serious response. The lesson to the boys was complete.

The wagon driver remains true to his destiny of a builder of the physical while the shammes remains true to his, eating in order to be able to carry on the task of bringing G‑dliness into the physical.

Yosef’s dreams are important both for Am Yisrael in general and individual Jews in particular. The first dream, is a dream of industry. There is work taking place, hard work.

In Pharaoh’s dreams there is no work. This is kelipah (evil), the opposite of kedushah. The opposite of holiness seeks result without toil. Reality dictates that in spiritual endeavors nothing lasting comes without toil, and the product is a function of effort. Physical success for a Jew although conditional on effort is governed by Divine Providence (see The Ladder Up; Building Block No. 1.) Spiritual success is a function of toil.

In Pharaoh’s two dreams, the dreams take care of themselves. Fat cows, fat corn, skinny cows and skinny corn, everything is happening on its own, with no one interfering.

For a Jew, spiritual progress and its by-products of nachas, satisfaction and happiness is a function of effort.

What is this effort? Explains the Rebbe, binding sheaves is the process of taking separate stalks and tying them together. Every neshamah which descends into the world does so in a separate state. The responsibility of Am Yisrael in each generation, whether as a nation, a group or a family is to unify and bind together those other neshamahs. The natural state of division and separation is to be reversed by tying the individual sheaves together and eliminating division and separation.

How is this mighty activity accomplished? By bowing down to a middle sheaf. The stars and the sun and the moon are required to bow down and the sheaves are required to bow down. The bowing down is to the Moshe Rabbeinu of each generation. There must be a recognition of one’s inability to function entirely alone and without guidance. Respect for and obedience to real values are required.

Finally, this Sedra contains assistance to recognize the formula for individual greatness. Each Jew can see that specifically from a descent to the lowest level (Mitzrayim) tempted in vain by the most luscious enticement (Potiphar’s wife) there is the potential for ascent to the highest levels of power. Each Jew needs to recognize when he is temporarily in his Mitzrayim. Furthermore by not being seduced by any part of this alien environment he makes himself a beneficent ruler over himself and his environment, the by-product of which is fulfillment and happiness.