The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.
Joseph related two dreams to his brothers. The first dream, about sheaves, representing the brothers, bowing to his sheaf, was greeted by his brothers with derision and hatred. The second dream, where the sun, moon, and stars bowed to Joseph, engendered jealousy on top of the enmity the brothers already felt towards him. The Torah explicitly states that Joseph repeated the dream to his father, who scolded him, perhaps partially in an attempt to deflect some of the brothers’ antipathy from him. However, Jacob waited anxiously for the eventual fulfillment of the dream.
There is a disagreement among the commentators, whether Joseph related to Jacob the first dream, regarding the sheaves. Assuming that he did, why did Jacob not express anger after hearing the details of the first dream? After all, the dream implied a desire for economic domination of his brothers, which should have been discouraged. If Jacob was looking forward to Joseph’s spiritual ascendancy, as indicated by the second dream, why did he scold him for that? Why, or in what way, did he anticipate the fulfillment of the second dream?
On various occasions, the Rav, zt”l, formulated what he called a Doctrine of Assignment. Every individual, indeed all of creation, has a mission to perform, which renders him an agent of G-d. G-d provides each agent with the tools and abilities to fulfill that mission. We have a principle that an agent acts in place of the represented client, shlucho shel adam k’moto. How can we say that finite, insignificant man represents infinite, omnipotent G-d? Regardless of the inherent difficulty of the question, creation in G-d’s image, apparently charges each individual with the mission to perform His will, to act as His agent. Each individual is assigned his/her distinct mission, which usually and paradoxically remains obscured from the agent himself. Perhaps the intended mission for a great Torah scholar is to perform an act of kindness for a pauper, or to demonstrate honor and care for an elderly parent.
The Talmud (Brachot 17a) records a brilliant aphorism espoused by the wise men of the Yavne Academy. “I and my friend, an ignorant Galilean farmer, are both creations of G-d. Neither assumes or takes pride in the other’s work. Do not say that my (scholar’s) share or reward exceeds his. For we have learned, the quantity matters not so long as one’s heart and actions are dedicated to heaven.” How can we compare the anonymous, ignorant Galilean farmer to the great scholars of Yavne? They reestablished the grandeur and light of Torah. They illuminated the path of the Jewish people in the darkness of the post-Temple period. This aphorism teaches that one should never assume that he is independent of his fellow Jew, or that his life mission is more important. We simply cannot be certain as to what our mission is. Our task is to fulfill whatever we can do as faithfully as possible.
Joseph’s first dream revolved around economic power. As the Beit HaLevi observed, there is no inherent shame in a poor person’s dependence on a wealthy individual for support. The wealthy individual is obligated to support his poorer brethren. Therefore Jacob did not react to the first dream. However the second dream focused on measuring the spiritual contribution of Joseph compared to his brothers. Joseph said that he was independent of his brothers as his spiritual mission was greater than theirs. Hence they, represented by celestial bodies, will bow to him. Jacob realized that Joseph’s dream will be fulfilled in a duplex perspective: the brothers will bow before Joseph, however Joseph will be dependent on his brothers as well. They will acknowledge and accept his great spiritual role and contribution to the Jewish people. A time will also come when Joseph will have to bow to his brothers and recognize their significant role in the formation and continuity of the Jewish nation.
When the brothers descended to Egypt to purchase food, they prostrated themselves before Joseph. Perhaps this fulfilled the first dream, regarding Joseph’s economic domination of his brothers. However, it did not fulfill the second dream. Joseph’s spiritual greatness, as well as his role in Jewish history, was finally acknowledged on the night of the Exodus, up until his remains were interred in Shchem, upon entering the Land of Israel. While the rest of the people busied themselves collecting gold and silver from their Egyptian oppressors on the night of the Exodus, Moses, the great leader and representative of the people, searched for Joseph’s remains. He would not leave Egypt without them. During the entire 40 year sojourn through the desert, Joseph’s remains were kept in Moses’ tent. According to some opinions, Moses was included in the ritually impure group, enjoined from offering the Paschal sacrifice in the second year, because he was handling Joseph’s remains. Moses, as representative of the Jewish nation, fulfilled Joseph’s second dream, regarding the other tribes bowing to him, by demonstrating gratitude and recognition of Joseph’s critical spiritual role in the creation of the Jewish nation.
Joseph bowed to his brothers and recognized their critical spiritual role as well. At the end of his life, Joseph made his brothers take on an oath to remove his remains, with theirs, when they ultimately depart Egypt. Joseph, the Egyptian Viceroy, the second most powerful person in Egypt, had to plead with his brothers to take him with them? Apparently, Joseph was dependent on his brothers. He could not be included in Jewish history without them. Without their assistance, he would have possibly been forgotten. In asking for their help at the end of his life, he bowed before them in recognition of their spiritual role. Jacob’s anger at Joseph, as well as his anticipation of the duplex fulfillment of the second dream, ultimately was understood and realized. Joseph and his brothers finally accepted and appreciated each other’s great spiritual role.