Parshat Mikeitz

Joseph interprets Pharoh's dream

Bereishit (41: 15) (Robert Alter, trans.)
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I dreamed a dream and none can solve it, and I have heard about you that you can understand a dream to solve it.” In Hebrew the same word can mean hear or understand.

you understand a dream, to interpret it: Heb. תִּשְׁמַע . You listen to and understand a dream, to interpret it.
you understand: Heb. תִּשְׁמַע . An expression of understanding and listening, similar to “Joseph understood ( שׁמֵֹעַ )” (Gen. 42:23); and “whose language you will not understand ( תִּשְׁמַע )” (Deut. 28:49), antandras in Old French, you understand.

Robert Alter
I have heard about you that you can understand a dream. “Heard” and “understand” are the same verb (shama`), which has both these senses, precisely like the French entendre. Though the second clause has often been construed as a kind of hyperbole — you need only hear a dream to reveal its meaning — the straightforward notion of understanding dreams makes better sense.

Rav Wolbe
Many people respond without understanding — often without even listening — to what was said to them! Many people respond without understanding — and often without even listening — to what was said to them! They are so quick to dispense their wisdom, to the point that they have already formulated a response before their friend even finished his question or comment. Rashi is informing us that a proper reply can only be given after a person listens and understands what the person in front of him is trying to say.

[this] also applies to one’s appraisal of situations. In order to properly be able to respond to seemingly inappropriate behavior of one’s spouse or child, one must first “listen” and try to understand what is being conveyed. There are several middot that may be involved in the ability to “listen,” such as humility, honor, and truth. How do you think they may be involved? What middah is the most important for you to listen? Why does the Pharaoh need someone who can truly listen? Have you had situations where you cannot fully explain your worries and anxieties, yet sense something is wrong?

Bereishit (42:9)
And Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them, and he said to them, “You are spies!”

Eliyahu Dessler
Why did Yosef not notify his father of his whereabouts as soon as he could? And why did he, later on, afflict such mental anguish on his brothers by accusing them of being spies, with all that entailed?

Yitzhak Arama, Akedat Yitzhak (as cited by Dessler)
Yosef was not able to notify his father earlier, hew as afraid that his sudden reappearance would lead to a rift which might break up the family. His purpose was to maneuver the brothers into a situation where they would have the option of leaving Binyamin in slavery or sacrificing themselves to save him.

Eliyahu Dessler
…Whenever there is a “awakening from above” … there must be “awakening from below” (that is, the illumination [from above] is only temporary…[without effort to meet some challenge] Dessler refers to “awakening from above” when God gives us an insight without any
work on our part. He sees Joseph’s rulership as an awakening from above that was built on the many tests (the awakening from below) that Joseph went through. How might Joseph be engineering an awakening from below for his brothers? Why would this be superior to simply telling his brothers the truth of who he was?

Henach Leibowitz
The baalei mussar tell us that the greatest distance in the human body is not from the head to the toe but from the brain to the heart. There are many facts and ideas that we understand intellectually but do not actually feel on a deeper, emotional level.

Elya Lopian
Mussar is making the heart understand what the mind knows.

What is the word “heart” mean in this context? Have you had experiences were you intellectually had knowledge but yet did not understand what was happening? What examples can you find in the Torah text that supports the idea that the trial Joseph imposes on his brothers was a better test of repentance?

Based on the Torah verse’s “And Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed about them,” Dessler thinks Arama is not seeing the deeper meaning.

Eliyahu Dessler
It is mentioned in our holy books that Yosef’s motive in subjecting his brothers to false accusations and temporary oppression was to foreshadow the Egyptian exile. Here was a high Egyptian official ill-treating the representatives of the future tribes of Israel. [It is a trial to help them survive the future experience of bondage.]

Dessler is telling us that he thinks Joseph is invoking a trial beyond the personal family drama. Joseph is trying to build a spiritual discipline in the founders of the tribes for them to pass on to their descendants. How well do you think the Torah verse supports
that idea? What is the significance of dreams in this parsha about revealing deeper patterns?

Is there a passage in this parsha that supports the idea that the brothers have learned something about how to resist oppression?

What might Joseph’s ability to hear dreams teach us about “listening” or interpreting the Torah?