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I have read many divrei Torah published over the last two months, in which – again and again – it was noted that the parshiyot hashavua stories in Bereishis were particularly and poignantly applicable to our current struggle against the accursed Hamas. Whether it was the destruction of the world in the Flood, Avraham and the Five Kings, the story of Yishmael, the struggle against Eisav, and so on. Now we’ve arrived at the last part of Sefer Bereishis, the thrilling drama of Yosef and his brothers. Is some aspect of this story particularly important for us this year?

One connection is the story of how, in fact, it is essential for Yosef to be a king before the ascendancy of Yehuda. This foretells what our Sages tell us about the End of Days, when Mashiach ben Yosef will precede the arrival of Mashiach ben David. I am about to complete writing a book on the Thirteen Principles of Faith based on the shiurim of my esteemed rebbe, Rav Michel Twerski, shlita. In that book, a chapter is devoted to the topic of Mashiach Ben Yosef, who will fight the wars against our enemies and bring Am Yisrael to its proper place in the world before the arrival of Mashiach ben David. It certainly seems like the present conflict has the potential to be part of that process. Only time will tell.


But I wanted to write today about a different aspect of the Yosef story based on a masterful treatment I heard from one of my rebbeim in Eretz Yisrael, in looking at the many dreams that appear in these parshiyot. Vayetzei begins and ends with Yaakov’s dreams (and that of Lavan); Vayishlach has another dream-like encounter; Vayeshev begins and ends with a double dream (of Yosef and then of the two ministers); and Miketz begins with a double dream of Pharaoh. Notably, there are two types of dreams – some with a clear message, like those of Yaakov, and some that require interpretation to understand. When experienced by a prophet with a clear message, that is a prime example of prophecy. However, when they do not contain a clear message and require interpretation, a crucial question arises: Who is empowered to interpret the dream?

A cursory look at Yosef’s resume yields that he was a gifted dream interpreter. That is how the sar hamashkim (wine butler) referred to him before Pharaoh. But Yosef studiously and forcefully rejected that characterization. To both the ministers and Pharaoh, he insisted, “Surely Hashem can interpret! Tell me [your dreams]” (40:8). “And Pharaoh said to Yosef, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it. Now I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.’ Yosef answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘Not I! Hashem will see to Pharaoh’s welfare” (41:15-16).

Yosef did not just answer Pharaoh but asserted strongly, “I do not have the power to interpret. Left to my own devices, I would not dare to offer an opinion as to what these dreams mean or what events they foretell. Only if the Almighty grants me prophetic insight will I have the right – and indeed obligation – to deliver the prophecy to you. Interpreting dreams based on one’s own opinions and thoughts is wrong and dangerous, and I suffered from it greatly.”

Way back when Yosef was seventeen, he had a disturbing dream, disturbing to his brothers and, most of all, to himself. He lived as the orphan child of Yaakov’s beloved Rachel, not accepted by the sons of Leah, wearing the coat of many colors that Yaakov had made for him. Without going into why the wise Yaakov did this, it earned Yosef the enmity of his brothers, who hated him and felt threatened by him. After all, they knew the history of their father and grandfather: Yitzchak had been chosen, Yishmael banished. Yaakov was chosen, Eisav rejected. They feared that this fate may be theirs as well. Yosef, by contrast, wanted in every way to be accepted and loved by them and thus led a tortured existence.

And then, one night, he had a prophetic dream. All the brothers (who were shepherds, not farmers) had bushels, and Yosef’s bushels stood upright, while the bushels of all the brothers bowed to it. One could imagine Yosef saying, “No! My bushel, get down! What are you doing? Let’s get out of here!” But that was the dream, and as a prophet, he had to reveal his prophecy (and not be kovesh nevuoso).

What happened next? The brothers interpreted the dream, based on their own ideas and prejudices. “Would you be the King over us? Would you rule us?” they asked. And they hated him even more. This fit right into their preconceptions regarding Yosef’s delusions of grandeur and led ultimately to their conclusion and judgment that as a mortal threat to them, he was a rodef and must be put to death, or at least sold as a slave. They continued to be so invested in their self-righteousness and the integrity of their judgment of the danger Yosef presented that they were willing to see their old father suffer in agony and mourning for 22 years. Moreover, even when coming face to face with Yosef as viceroy and seeing sign after sign that this was, in fact, their long-lost brother, they had such cognitive dissonance that they were utterly incapable of recognizing him. Such is the power of arrogating to oneself the right to interpret events consistent with your own worldview, closing your eyes to the possibility that you might be wrong.

In truth, they were wrong. Not only about Yosef’s intentions but also about the dream. Their bundle bowed to his bundle – not to him. This was a prophetic view of the brothers all coming to Yosef for bundles of wheat. It was not about him having dominion over them, but about his being the source of their livelihood. Yaakov knew better than to interpret. So his brothers were angry at him, and his father kept the matter in mind (37:11).

We are living through historic, momentous times. We have seen very sadly the results of our political and military leadership having an arrogant preconception that they would be able to tame the Hamas tiger by allowing Gazans greater job and economic opportunities and whiz-bang super technological sensors and warning systems in the billion-dollar fence that folded like a stack of cards. We need to learn from this how dangerous it is to rest on our preconceptions and assume that we know and understand everything. Indeed, there is much talk in Israel about the problems stemming from a false “conceptzia,” and a realization that much more humility is needed.

The need for understanding that “Not I! Hashem will see to Pharaoh’s welfare” is even greater as this process moves forward. Too many have already asserted their definite view that these are the birth-pangs of the Mashiach, that they know why this group was targeted, and what the future holds.

We don’t know anything. Our job is to prepare the way for the Mashiach. To do chessed, to love our fellow Jews, and to spread the light and wisdom of Torah wherever we can. What will happen? How will the war end? When will the war end?

Hashem will do what is best for us, for all of Klal Yisrael, and the whole world. It is not for us to ponder what, when, and how it will happen. Rather, it is for us to do whatever we can, each in his or her own way, to win hearts and minds for Torah and thus bring about the conditions for Mashiach.

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Rabbi Yehuda L Oppenheimer, former Rav at several congregations in the United States, lives in Israel and is an educator, writer, and licensed tour guide. He eagerly looks forward to showing you our wonderful land on your next visit. He blogs at and can be reached at [email protected] or voice/WhatsApp at 053-624-1802.