Don’t you want to be successful? Who doesn’t want to be a successful human being, in whatever form that translates to—an affluent entrepreneur, a famous novelist, a research scientist, or a loving parent?

But think again: Do you really want to be successful? What if success entails a rigid schedule, tremendous self-control, forcing you to take part in things that you really don’t like? Do you still want to be successful?

Do you want to be healthy? We all want to look and feel our best. But what if being healthy means restricting your choice of foods, hitting the gym regularly, taking those stairs instead of the elevator, giving up some of your favorite dishes, and then doing all those sacrifices over again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next? Do you still want to be healthy?

We want the positive results, but are we ready to put in the effort, toil, and tears until we reach our goals and then those same efforts, day after day, to maintain them?

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about Pharaoh’s dreams.

Pharaoh said to Joseph: “In my dream, I am standing on the bank of the River. And behold, there come out of the river seven cows … .”1

Similarly, in Pharaoh’s second dream, “Seven ears of grain were growing on one stalk, full and good. And seven ears of grain, hardened, thin ... And the thin ears of grain swallowed up the seven good ears of grain.2

In last week’s portion, Joseph tells his brothers about his dream: “We were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf arose and stood upright, and your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”3

There is a subtle but distinct contrast between the dreamers. In Joseph’s dream, he is the subject. In Pharaoh’s dreams, he was the object. Joseph and his brothers were toilers—active participants in the drama of life. Pharaoh, on the other hand, was a passive bystander, watching as time unfolds.

The message of Joseph’s dream is that we are all bundlers in the field of life. We need to bind together all our resources, talents, and creativity, and bow to our Divinely ordained mission. We subjugate our will, cravings, and temptations to the guidance and wisdom of Someone or something greater than ourselves. We gather information, listen, learn, and then work to achieve our goals. And all that requires effort and toil.

To Pharaoh, though, life is a river, and he is standing on its bank observing. The cows, or the ears of corn, which represent the years of life, consume one another as he watches life pass by. In Pharaoh’s vision, we are the victims of destiny, with little choice or responsibility. Rather than taking charge of our purpose, we allow one day to merge into the next, preferring to remain onlookers rather than crafters of our fate. We blame our circumstances, our natural inborn defects or inabilities, instead of taking responsibility for our actions.

Being an observer can be easier than being a toiler, but the observer never experiences the freedom and satisfaction of creating and achieving.

We all have dreams and aspirations. Which type of dreamer will we be? And how much are we ready to sacrifice to turn our dreams into our reality?