Two Dreams, Two Messages

The beginning of this week’s Torah reading relates Yosef’s two dreams. The meaning of the two dreams is the same. They both allude to the fact the Yosef would be granted dominion over his brothers, and that they would bow down to him. (The second dream has one addition: “the sun and the moon,” Yaakov and Bilhah, will also bow to him.)

Later, in Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah relates that Pharaoh also had two dreams. In this instance as well, both dreams had the same meaning. With regard to Pharaoh’s dreams, however, the Torah tells us why the dreams were repeated, to show that the events alluded to were imminent.1 With regard to the repetition of Yosef’s dreams, by contrast, the Torah does not give an explanation.

This implies for the addition that Yaakov and Bilhah will also bow down to him is not a significant enough factor; indeed it could have been alluded to in the first dream that the two dreams, although sharing the same general meaning, reflect two different concepts.

We must thus endeavor to understand the significance of these two dreams, and the lesson they hold for us. Their relevance is heightened by the teaching:2 “The deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign to their descendants.” For although Yosef is not considered to be one of the Patriarchs, the events which occurred to him relate to all of us, because his Divine service is a direct extension of that of Yaakov. As implied by the verse,3 “This is the posterity of Yaakov. Yosef…,” it is Yosef who draws down the spiritual influence of Yaakov into the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, and into our material world.

A Jew’s DreamsDiffer From those of a Gentile

The difference between Yosef’s two dreams can be explained as follows: the first concerned material objects; he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field.4 The second dream involved the sun, moon, and stars5 objects in the heavenly sphere.

Pharaoh’s dreams, by contrast, both concerned worldly matters. One involved ears of corn (i.e., plants), and the other cows (the animal kingdom). Pharaoh did not, however, have any conception of the heavenly realm. Moreover, even with regard to worldly matters, his dreams followed a downward trend;6 first he dreamt about the cows and afterwards about the ears of corn.7 Yosef, by contrast, followed the pattern: “Always ascend higher with regard to holy matters.”8 Thus he first dreamt about material matters, and then about heavenly matters.

This points to a larger difference between Jews and non-Jews. Even while a Jew is involved with material concerns, he is living on two planes simultaneously. Not only is he involved with this physical world, he shares a connection to the spiritual truth of the World to Come.

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, once expressed this concept as follows: When he was arrested in 5687, one of the Russian officers threatened him with a revolver. The Rebbe answered him: “Only those who have many gods and one world will be frightened by such an article. A person who has one G‑d and two worlds is not frightened at all.”9

The Rebbe was not speaking of living first in this world and then in the World to Come. Instead, he meant that while living in this material world, a Jew shares a connection with the spiritual realms.

This connection follows a pattern of ascent as alluded to in the verse:10 “A ladder was standing on the earth, and its top reached into the heavens.” The “ladder” of a Jew’s Divine service has its roots in lowly, material concerns, and yet reaches “into the heavens,” to the highest spiritual planes.

Fusing the Material and the Spiritual

All the details of the stories related in the Torah are significant, and each provides us with a directive in our Divine service.11 Accordingly, the fact that Yosef had two dreams, one concerning material matters and another concerning heavenly matters, yet both bearing the same message teaches every Jew to fuse both of his worlds the material and the spiritual into a single entity. Not only should a Jew’s material concerns not hinder his Divine service, they should complement that service. Indeed, the material should become one with the spiritual.12

Although the Zohar states:13 “The strength of the body is the weakness of the soul,” this does not necessarily contradict the above. For the Zohar refers, not to the body’s physical health, but to the strength of its desires, and the fervor of its longing for material things. With regard to the actual health of the body, by contrast, the Rambam writes:14 “Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the paths of G‑d.”

To explain: All material concerns eating, drinking, and our other activities should be for the sake of the spiritual, in order to serve G‑d. This thrust is a natural tendency in the makeup of every Jew, even simple people, as reflected in the following story.15

When they were young children, the Rebbe Rashab and his brother Reb Zalman Aharon were arguing about the difference between Jews and non-Jews. To provide them with an answer, their father, the Rebbe Maharash called his attendant Reb Ben Tzion, a simple Jew with little Torah scholarship.

“Ben Tzion, did you eat today,” the Rebbe asked him.


“Did you eat well?”

“What do mean ‘well?’ Thank G‑d, I’m satisfied.”

“Why did you eat?”

“In order to live.”

“And why do you live?”

“To be a Jew, and to do what G‑d wants,” the attendant answered, sighing slightly.

Afterwards, the Rebbe Maharash told his children: “Do you see? A Jew’s inherent nature is to eat in order to live. And he lives in order to be a Jew and do what G‑d wants. And he gives a sigh because he feels that in truth he is not living according to these values in a complete sense.”

Moreover, since a Jew’s desire and intent is that all of his material concerns be connected with the spiritual, they are indeed considered as such. As the Baal Shem Tov would say:16 “Wherever a person’s desire is, there he himself is to be found.”

To Reap, One Must Sow

The above applies to the general concept conveyed by Yosef’s dreams. Moreover, the particular details of the dreams also convey lessons. The first dream begins with Yosef and his brothers binding sheaves of grain in the field. This is an important factor. Yosef’s dreams begin with work, in contrast to the dreams of Pharaoh, which did not involve any activity on his part.

This reflects one of the fundamental differences between the realm of holiness and the realm of kelipah, evil. G‑dly influence is granted to kelipah without Divine service being required. Thus on the phrase:17 “which we ate in Egypt without charge,” our Sages comment:18 “without mitzvos,” i.e., in Egypt, in the realm of kelipah, material well-being is dispersed without Divine service. In the realm of holiness, by contrast, nothing is unearned; on the contrary, this would be considered “bread of shame.”19 All Divine influence is earned by effort.

This lesson, the importance of work, accompanies a Jew as he advances up the ladder of Divine service, beginning with worldly matters, and proceeding to include the spiritual.

Three Themes in Our Divine Service

What constitutes a Jew’s work? Binding together sheaves. Every stalk of grain is a separate entity, growing in its own place. Man’s service involves joining together these distinct entities into larger composites, sheaves.20

Where is this activity carried out? “In the field,” an analogy for our material world. A Jew’s soul descends into this world, the field, which is characterized by separation.21 It is the realm of kelipah, as reflected by the description of Esav22 as “a man of the field.”

As the soul descends into this world, it becomes enclothed in the body and the animal soul. The latter are characterized by an awareness of self, and of one’s distinction from others. The soul’s task “in the field” is to nullify this sense of self and separation engendered by the animal soul, and to bring together all its potentials in the service of G‑d.

This cannot be done unless “your sheaves… bowed down to my sheaf”; the brothers must bow down and negate themselves before Yosef HaTzaddik.

To explain: The entire Jewish people can be described using the analogy of a large body.23 In the human body, there are three organs, the brain, the heart, and the liver, which control the functioning of the whole,24 and all the other organs must allow themselves to be controlled by these three. More particularly, this applies with regard to the brain. Only when the body is controlled by these three organs, and in particular by the brain, is it healthy.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the Jewish people. It is not sufficient for a person to carry out the service of “binding together sheaves in the field,” nullifying the influence of the body and the animal soul and uniting them in them service of G‑d. Even after a person himself becomes “a sheaf,” i.e., an element of this service, he must negate himself before the “sheaf” of Yosef HaTzaddik, the Rebbe, the leader of the generation, the head of the Jewish people.25 The leader gives directives for the entire Jewish people and controls their functioning, as a head controls the function of all the body’s limbs and organs.26

Indeed, even the success of the mission of “binding together sheaves,” is dependent on “bow[ing] down to [Yosef’s] sheaf,” making a commitment to the tzaddik of the generation. For a Jew’s ability to carry out his mission in “the field,” our material world, stems from the inner commitment of his soul to Yosef HaTzaddik.27 In practice, however, a Jew’s Divine service must ascend step by step. Thus he must first carry out the task of “binding together sheaves,” and afterwards, he negates his sheaf, i.e., his spiritual achievements, to the leader of the generation.

On the Spiritual Plane

All three stages of Divine service are carried out “in the field,” i.e., within the context of material existence (relating to the first of Yosef’s dreams). The intent, however, is to ultimately transcend the limits of the body and the animal soul. This refers to the concept of spending “all of one’s days in teshuvah,”28 as explained in Likkutei Torah.29

The inner dimension of teshuvah is for “the soul [to] return to G‑d who granted it,”30 i.e., establishing the same level of connection as the soul experienced before being enclothed in a body. This does not mean death leaving the body and the animal soul but rather that the body, while remaining a part of the material world, will no longer veil G‑dliness. This is the purpose of the descent of the soul into this material plane; that while enclothed in the body, it will unite with G‑d on the same level as before its descent.

This is alluded to by Yosef’s second dream, which speaks only of heavenly matters. He has already left the field, i.e., he has risen above material concerns. Therefore, in this dream, there is no mention of the task of binding sheaves, establishing unity among discrete entities, for this work has already been accomplished. On this level, the task involves spiritual service alone, enabling “the soul [to] return to G‑d who granted it.”

Nevertheless, even on this advanced level, the task of negating one’s spiritual self-image to the leader of the generation is still relevant. The 11 stars (the level which one has reached) bow down to Yosef. This emphasizes that the commitment to Yosef is not required merely “in the field.” One might think since that realm is characterized by separation, such a commitment is necessary to prevent the strengthening of the forces of evil, but that when one is involved only with spiritual matters, there is no need for such a commitment. Therefore the Torah tells us that 11 stars individuals involved in the highest spiritual service bowed in utter self-nullification to Yosef HaTzaddik.

Crowning Efforts

We can summarize the lessons taught by Yosef’s dreams as follows. First and foremost, work is necessary. Effort and labor are the rungs of the ladder by which a Jew can ascend and establish a connection with G‑d. Although Jews are “sons of kings,”31 and indeed, “kings”32 themselves, this does not mean they need not expend effort. On the contrary, as explained above, all the influence received in the realm of holiness comes through work. Nevertheless, since we are speaking about “kings,” every small effort is counted as if it were strenuous labor. And in return, G‑d will grant “the feasts of Shlomo at the height of his reign,” and even more.33 But still, effort is required.

We are promised, however, “If you labor, you will find,”34 i.e., you will attain accomplishments that you could not have expected previously, as a discovered object is not anticipated. Indeed, the attainments will be far out of proportion to one’s efforts, lifting one to the highest spiritual rungs.

The second directive is that, regardless of one’s level of Divine service, all of one’s efforts should be accompanied by a commitment of self-nullification to the leader of the generation.

And when a person “nullifies his own will,” G‑d “will nullify the wills of others before your will.”35 The term “others” is plural, referring to the concealment of G‑d in this material world, which allows for the mistaken conception that there are two sources of influence, heaven forbid. As our Sages state36 with regard to the plural form used in the statement, “Let us make man:” “One who desires to err may err.”

When a person rises above this frame of reference and nullifies his will, he becomes a fit vessel to receive the influence from Yosef, the tzaddik who is the foundation of the world.37

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayeishev, 5720)