When he awakes
from indelible dreams
he senses they are true:
the portent of importance
cannot be ignored.
Able to decipher
the auguries of others –
the lowly and the king,
he has learned he speaks the vision
of the One Who dreams us all.
Although Joseph’s own dreams as a youth were egocentric dreams, presaging a rise to greatness, his father Jacob also recognised them as true dreams (Bereishit 37:11). Rabbi Tsadok HaCohen of Lublin describes certain dreams, which remain enduringly in the mind, as having a kernel of truth. As to interpreting dreams, he says that those who had been purified of bad traits, like Joseph and Daniel, were able to interpret dreams and discern between those which were true prophecies and those which were false.
In a commentary from 2010 on Parashat Vayeshev, http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/commentary/va-yeishev/5771/going-holiness, Rabbi David Levy links the increasing spiritual awareness which we see in Joseph, to the lighting of the Chanukah candles. He describes the well-known debate between Hillel and Shammai described in the Talmud (Shabbat 21b). Shammai advocates lighting eight candles on the first night, decreasing to one on the final night. Hillel, however, whose ruling we follow, advocates the reverse: starting with one candle and increasing to eight. The reason for this is given: Ma’alin b’kodesh v’ain moridin meaning “We ascend in matters of holiness and do not descend.”
Rabbi Levy says, “When I first encountered this text, I imagined this continuum of personal holiness to look something like an incline, starting low as we begin our spiritual journey and working ever onward and upward in our lives. But life has taught me that most of our lives’ paths don’t look like inclines; they probably look more like the tracks of roller coasters. We climb, we plunge — every now and then, we are even thrown for a loop. How then can we live out the ideal of ever increasing in holiness?”
He says that in last week’s Parasha, Vayeshev, and this week’s Miketz, we see the ups and downs of Joseph’s life.
He continues, “I think we can learn a lot from the roller-coaster ride that is Joseph’s life. If we take a close look at Joseph’s experiences, particularly in his choice of words, we can see the idea of ever-increasing holiness in his life.” He brings a teaching by Professor Avigdor Shinan who sees the process of spiritual maturation through each set of dreams which Joseph encounters. In describing his first, youthful dreams, Joseph never mentions God as the Source of his ascendancy. He even seems to be standing in for God when the sheaves and stars bow down to him. As he matures, though, after encountering several reversals of fate in which the early prophecy does not seem to be coming to fruition, he arrives at the point where he says to the butler and the baker, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me.” (Bereishit 40:8). This is understood to be implying that perhaps God will reveal the meaning to him. So he is acknowledging God’s place in his life. And in this week’s Parasha, he says to Pharaoh, “It is not I but God Who will attend to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (Bereishit 41:16). Here he is directly attributing his competence to God. Rashi teaches that Joseph is finally saying, “The wisdom to interpret dreams is not my own but God will answer – He will put in my mouth an answer that will be for Pharaoh’s welfare.”
Rabbi Levy wonders how Joseph reached this recognition of God’s role in his life. He points out that the prison in which Joseph was incarcerated was the one where “the king’s prisoners were confined.” (Bereishit 39:20). He says that the commentators address this seemingly “extra” detail which clarifies what kind of prison it was. The Ramban suggests that this was part of God’s design to arrange for Joseph’s “chance” meeting with the royal cupbearer and baker. Rabbi Levy adds, “Perhaps Joseph recognizes God’s hand in the chance meetings, as Ramban suggests we should. This reminds us as well of Joseph’s good fortune when his brothers decide to throw him into a pit and it turns out to be an empty one: it could have been a full cistern of water as many such pits would have been. There, too, we have the seemingly extra explanation when we are told, “The pit was empty, there was no water in it,” (Bereishit 37:24). Perhaps these extraneous details are winks to us in the text that God is looking out for Joseph, and perhaps Joseph realized this.”
He concludes, “We can see that, despite Joseph’s ups and downs, his spiritual life is steadily on the rise. Ultimately Joseph considers it his mission to carry out God’s will. In this way we too can be “m’alin b’kodesh”—we need to seek ways to grow in spirit. Even if we go up and down, we can try to allow holiness into our lives. We can do this through prayer, study, and the performance of mitzvot that attune us to act on God’s behalf in our world. If we allow ourselves to rise in holiness, our lives can be like the menorah [sic], ever increasing in light.”