Riddle of the Bowing Stars: Joseph's Mysterious Dream
Riddle of the Bowing Stars: Joseph's Mysterious Dream
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Joseph has some bizarre dreams through the story of Genesis. One of the oddest is a dream that really upsets his brothers and father, a dream about a sun, moon and some bowing stars, but what a mysterious dream. How would a star – a ball of light – bow?
Rabbi Fohrman points out that up to this point in the Torah, only two people have ever had dreams – Jacob and Joseph, father and son. Is that a coincidence? If not, is there a relationship between father's dreams and son's dreams? Could understanding the relationship between the dreams reveal what the dreams truly mean?
To this point, at this time of the year, we've been exposed to three dreams in the Torah. Ultimately, we'll be exposed to five. The three dreams, of course, are Jacob's dream, Joseph's two dreams and then next week we'll hear about Pharaoh's two dreams. Just right there, you have an interesting kind of symmetry in that the first dream occurs for Jacob and the second two dreams occur, of all people, with his son and then the third set of dreams occur with Pharaoh, who has a father-like relationship to Joseph. It's almost like you have father, son, father. Then, that's it for dreams. It makes you wonder whether at some level the dreams of these people are related to each other. They don't seem to be related at first blush, but I think a closer look yields that they might be.
When we start with the first dreams, first of all, what's interesting is that if the dreams of Jacob and the dreams of Joseph are related, the first most obvious thing to notice is that Jacob has one dream and Joseph has two. If at some level they're related, the question then is why one dream and two dreams. But why would we think that the dreams of Jacob are related to the dreams of Joseph other than the fact that simply the coincidence of the fact that father and son are both dreaming and we never hear of dreams really before or after so much in the Torah aside from that. A good reason to believe that they might be related is that some of the themes in Jacob's dream sort of reemerge in Joseph's dreams.
Let's just think about Jacob's dream. In Jacob's dream, what do you have? You have it up on the screen over here so let's take a quick look at the dream. "Vayachalom v'hinei sulam mutzav artzah v'rosho magi'a hashamaymah," he dreamt and there was this ladder that was stretching up to heaven and its head was in heaven and there were angels that were going up and down it. "V'hinei Hashem nitzav alav" and there was God on top of the ladder and God spoke to Jacob and said I am the God of Abraham, your father, and the God of Isaac. The land that I'm going to give you today "l'cha etnenah u'l'zar'echa" I will give it to you and to your children. "V'haya zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz," your children will be like the dust of the earth "u'paratztah yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegbah," and they will burst forth north, south, east and west. "V'niv'r'chu b'cha kol mishpichos ha'adamah u'v'zar'echa," and through you blessing will come to all of the world and through your children.
"V'hinei anochi imach u'shmarticha b'chol asher teileich," I will be with you. I will watch over you wherever you go. "Vahashivoticha el ha'adamah hazot" and I will ultimately bring you back to this land. "Ki lo e'ezavcha" because I will not abandon you "ad asher asiti eit asher dibarti lach" until I have done that which I have promised to you. That's the dream.
If you just think about that dream and if you just imagine that dream visually for a moment, what about that dream seems to get echoed in Joseph's dream? Here's this ladder and its head in the heavens and its feet are on the ground. Joseph seems to dream about different things. He dreams about these sheaves of wheat. He's dreaming about the sun, the moon and the stars. But if you think about it, in broad stroke, especially if you see Joseph's dream as two dreams almost like a split of Jacob's dream, how would you see Jacob's dream sort of splitting in two in Joseph's dreams?
Audience Member: Well, the sheaves of wheat are really connecting more to the ground so you have that part. And then the ladder going up to the sky.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right, isn't it interesting that one of Joseph's dreams seems to focus on the ground, specifically because there are these sheaves of wheat that are coming from the ground and people in that dream are bowing to the ground. Then in your next dream, you've got Joseph already with the sun and the moon and the stars all bowing to him so one dream is really about the heavens and the other dream is really about the earth, which is kind of interesting. Is it possible that Jacob's dream in a certain way is splitting between these two?
Along the way there are some questions that you might ask about Joseph's dream especially about Joseph's second dream. First of all, what do the dreams mean? What do all these dreams mean? Very strange dreams all of them they are full of all of these sort of psychedelic images, but if you think about Joseph's dream, one of the strange questions about Joseph's dream is what would it mean for stars to bow? Did you ever wonder about that? Think of a star. How would a star bow? A star is this little point of light. How could it bow? It's a little point of light. What would it even mean? Am I being persnickety? You think I'm being persnickety. Just, like, what would it even mean to visualize a star bowing? Do you know what I mean? It's even hard to imagine the sun and the moon bowing, but, like, for sure a star. How would stars bow, just technically how does it work? I think that question actually might give us a deep insight into the nature of the dream.
Let's stay with this idea, this possibility that Joseph's dream and Jacob's dream are connected. The real reason to believe that Joseph's and Jacob's dreams are connected, aside from the suggested aspect of the fact that Joseph's two dreams focus on heaven and earth, is a verb. The verb you can see right over here. It comes up twice in the Jacob story and it is the verb nitzav. You see it right over here. "V'hinei Hashem nitzav alav" God was standing on top of the ladder. Similarly, the ladder itself was a "sulam mutzav artzah" it was set upon the ground. So you have nitzav there in two forms, mutzav and nitzav. Lo and behold, that language shows up again in the Joseph dream.
Take a look at the Joseph dream for a second. Here's Joseph's dream. Dream Number 1, here we go. "V'hinei anachnu m'almim alumim b'toch hasadeh v'hinei kamah alumati" my sheaf got up "v'gam nitzavah" isn't that interesting? There's that word. My sheaf got up and it was standing up. Same words as Jacob's dream. Here's this ladder that stands up and here's the sheaf that stands up.
Now if you want to go further with this notion that Joseph's dreams sort of echo Jacob's dream, why don't you try this sort of psychedelic exercise of overlaying Joseph's dream visually on top of Jacob's dream and see what you get. Joseph's first dream. Just if you were to describe Jacob's dream as a modern art painting, you had to paint it, what would it look like? Let's actually just sort of paint the image. What happened?
"Hinei sulam mutzav artzah," there's this ladder. So the ladder is oriented sort of vertically. You've got this vertical orientation with the ladder. Then it's "rosho magi'a hashamaymah" its head is in heaven. Then there's these angels going up and down and it's affixed on earth. Then God comes and starts speaking to him. What's interesting is God starts speaking to him actually about the earth because what does God promise him? He says that this land that you're sleeping on, I'm going to give it to you and to your children. He says you're going to have lots of children. So He's really making two promises here.
Let's just go back to Jacob over here. He really has two promises; the promise of land on the one hand and the promise of children on the other hand. Now so look at how comingled those promises are. What's the metaphor that God uses to describe lots and lots of children for Jacob? What does He say? Right after He says you're going to have the land, He says "v'hayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" what are your children going to be like? They're going to be just like the dust of the land. So not only are you having these two promises, children and land, but your children are going to be like the dust of the land. Almost as if those two are kind of mingled together.
Now think about projecting the image of Joseph's dream on top of Jacob's dream. How would the dreams look like each other, especially with this nitzav business? Can you imagine projecting the two? What would the ladder be in Joseph's dream? The ladder has switched and is now looking like a grain stalk. Whose grain stalk? Joseph's. If the ladder has become the grain stalk, which is vertically oriented now in the dream, so let's go a little bit farther. Here comes God in Jacob's dream and says "v'hayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" you're going to have all these children. So now let's talk about historically when that happened.
Historically, when did "u'paratzta yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegbah" really take place? When did it happen that the children of Israel burst forth with this huge population explosion? The real truth is it happened in Egypt, which is strange because if you think about Jacob's dream, that's not the way it sounded like in the dream. In other words, in the dream it sounds like the land and children are sort of one. I'm going to give you the land and plus in the land, you're going to have all these children and the children are going to burst forth north, south, east and west and it's all going to be great. It is almost like you expect the promise of children and land to sort of come about simultaneously. But interestingly, that's not what happens historically.
What happens historically is our population explosion takes place in a different place than our land. The population explosion actually takes place in Egypt. And because it takes place in Egypt, it actually ends up being a mixed blessing. Almost as if that's not the way it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be that these two things happened together in the land, but that's not the way it eventually came to be. Eventually the way it came to be is the population explosion happened in Egypt. That's the beginning of Exodus. "U'b'nei Yisrael paru vayishritzu vayirbu vaya'atzmu b'me'od me'od." Now there was a problem with the population explosion happening in Egypt. What was the problem? What did it lead to the fact that the population explosion happened there as opposed to happening in our land?
Because it happened in a foreign land, our population explosion led to paranoia on the part of the indigenous people leading Pharaoh to come together "hava nit'chakmah lo pen yirbeh v'hayah ki sikrenah milchamah v'nosaf gam hu al soneinu." Pharaoh becomes worried about this population explosion. It sort of becomes a mixed blessing leading you to wonder did something go wrong. And maybe it did.
Put yourself in Jacob's shoes. Jacob has this dream on his way to Laban's house. On his way to Laban's house God comes to him and says everything's going to be great. You're going to have this land. You're going to have these children. It's going to be wonderful. So you're leaving, but don't worry about a thing because "lo e'ezavcha" I'm not going to leave you "ad asher asiti im asher dibarti lach" until I fulfill what I promised you. I'm not going to leave you.
If you're Jacob, therefore what do you think that means? When do you think the promise is going to happen? So you say to yourself, okay. I'm off to Laban's house. For how long am I off to Laban's house? Jacob, at this point, how long does he think he's off to Laban's house for? A few days. That's what his mommy told him. Mom said don't worry about a thing, kiddo. Esau's mad, but he's going to forget about it. Just go for "yamim achadim" just go for a few days and then don't worry about it. I'll call you back. You should go for "yamim achadim."
Then, what happens? Those "yamim achadim" stretch out and days become weeks become months and he begins to work. He begins to work for the hand of Rachel in marriage and literally as he works for her hand in marriage, it says that the years seemed in his eyes "k'yamim achadim b'ahavato otah." It seemed like just a few days. Which few days? The days that mommy told me about. It's like he's waiting for mom to call him. Mom's never sort of calling.
Then finally after 20 years, this angel comes to him in the middle of the night and says Jacob, it's time to go home. And he comes home. Here comes Jacob on his way home and what's he thinking to himself? This is the moment when the dream is coming true. I am coming home. God said that He would not leave me, that He would always be with me, that he would not leave me until I come home and it's finally happening. God is with me. Lo and behold, God appears to him on his way back in Bet El and in Bet El God comes to him at the end of Parshat Vayeitzei and says it's time for you to make an altar to the God who appeared to you in Bet El because the dream is coming true.
Now, if the dream comes true now, when does he get land and when does he get children? It's all going to be now. In other words, Jacob doesn't know history as we know it. In other words, history could have happened that way, as I think I have talked to you about before. Rav Soloveitchik's famous -- not so famous, but Rav Soloveitchik's theory that Jacob, in coming home thinks that he is the fabled fourth generation that was foretold in the Covenant of the Parts that God says the fourth generation will come home. It's up to me. It's my destiny to come home and to have all these kids.
Even, by the way, the language in the dream of "u'paratztah yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegabah" that your children will burst forth north, south, east and west, listen to that language u'paratztah, burst forth. What a strange turn of phrase. Well, who does that sort of kind of remind you of u'paratztah? There's a guy by that name, Peretz. Almost as if that's the way it should've been. Who was going to be the one who would oversee the dawn of the Israelite nation in its land, the beginning of all these children? It was supposed to have been the child of Judah was supposed to have been Peretz. Now Peretz in the end becomes the 10th generation ancestor of Kind David, but it didn't have to be that way. It should've been, it could've been this way, but it wasn't. It wasn't because something got in the way.
The promise that was made to Jacob in Vayeitzei in this dream, the promise of land and children that was supposed to be so intertwined that "vahayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" that your children are literally going to be like the dust of the land, those promises of land and children end up splitting. And they split such that the population explosion happens at a different moment than the giving of the land. The population explosion ends up happening in Egypt when we really should've been in our own land. Because we weren't in our own land, the population explosion becomes a bittersweet blessing, ends up becoming the straw that breaks the camel's back that enslaves us which gets us put in Egypt for 400 years only eventually to come to the land.
Interesting, there was a promise of children and land for Jacob that was supposed to come together and Jacob has one dream, a dream about heaven and earth and children and land. Joseph has two dreams, a dream about heaven and then a dream about earth. Could it be that on some level Joseph's two dreams are also one dream, perhaps, is one dream about children and is one dream about land?
Think about Joseph's dream. Overlay, again, Joseph's first dream upon Jacob's dream. As you overlay that so again, as we said before the stalk of wheat seems to be the new ladder. Now let's get to what God says again. God says "v'hayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" God said to Jacob. Your children are going to be like the dust of the land. Now, Joseph. What would that remind you of in Joseph's dream? What happens in Joseph's dream? Do Jacob's children become like the dust of the land in Joseph's dream and if so, how?
They bow down. And where do they bow down to? All the way to the ground. They have their faces in the dust, literally. So there's this one stalk standing up and then there are these other stalks that have all become -- that are all now down and literally like the ground, interestingly enough.
Now ask yourself so what did that dream end up meaning? It depends when you ask. At the moment when Joseph has that dream, nobody really knows exactly what the dream means. Everybody in the family sort of thinks it kind of means that Joseph's going to be in charge. They think maybe it's ego. They think that here's this kid with his imagination that's gotten a little bit out of control. But then, over time, Joseph seems to develop a new understanding of what the dream means. I talked about this in Aleph Beta course that we did on the Song of Ascents.
When does Joseph seem to begin to understand what the dream might mean, that it doesn't mean what everybody thought it meant when he was 17 years old, that there's this out of control kid that's just going to rule over everybody? Because if it meant that then why of all things would Joseph be analogized in a dream to a stalk of wheat? Joseph wasn't a wheat farmer. He was a cattle rancher. They were herdsmen. It wasn't their thing wheat. It was the one clue that the dream doesn't mean what you think it means.
When did the dream start to become an active issue for Joseph later in his life? When his brothers show up. Remember what happens when his brothers show up. His brothers show up and what's the first thing that happens? Let's actually go to that text for a second. Chapter 42. "Vayar Yosef et echav vayakireim vayitnaker aleihem vayidaber itam kashot." Joseph sees his brothers. He recognizes them and then he estranges himself from them. "Vayidaber itam kashot" he speaks harsh words for them. "Vayomer aleihem" and he says to them "mei'ayin batem" where did you guys come from. "Vayomru mei'eretz Canaan lishbar ochel" we've come from Canaan to find food for ourselves. "Vayaker Yosef et echav v'heim lo hikiruhu" and Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn't recognize him.
Now here's where you have to exercise one of my favorite principles, which is never read with the end in mind. The problem is you know the end of the story, but if you didn't know the end of the story, if you were reading the Torah for the very first time and you got up to here and then someone forced you to close the book and didn't let you read the next words and you had to play that famous Sesame Street game what happens next, what would you guess happens next?
Here's Joseph after all this time, the last thing that happened is the brothers threw him in a pit saying ah, here comes this dreamer. "Vayar Yosef et echav vayakireim" Joseph sees his brothers, recognizes them and then estranges himself from them. Notice how close vayitnaker is to vayakireim. It's just a little twist. He recognized them, but he estranged himself. He pulled back from them. He spoke harshly to them. He said where have you come from in an accusatory way. We've come from Canaan. And he recognized them and they didn't recognize him.
Now, what would you think is going to happen next? If you were thrown in a pit and you were Joseph and you recognize your brothers and then you estrange yourself from them, what's the rest of the story? Sorry, the safe is closed. Come back tomorrow and tomorrow there's some other guy. Franz Kafka The Trial go and bow all over these places. And you never talk -- he never sees them again. It's over. That's what you would assume would happen. But then something happens.
"Vayizkor Yosef et hachalomot asher chalam lahem." The next thing that happens is that Joseph remembers his dreams and then says "m'raglim atem lir'ot et ervat ha'aretz batem" you're spies, but then strangely even after he remembers his dreams, he's not any nicer. But then he sends them back with food despite the fact that he's not any nicer.
What happened when he remembered his dreams? Why did he remember his dreams? What did remembering his dreams do? What did that dream back then when he was 17 about the stalks of wheat, why all of the sudden is he remembering that dream? What's the trigger that's causing him to remember the dream? The answer is, the trigger is what happened in the verse before all of this?
The verse before all of this is right over here. "V'Yosef hu hashalit al ha'aretz" Joseph was in charge of all the land and then along comes the brothers of Joseph "vayishtachavu lo apayim artzah" and they bowed in front of him. Right before Joseph dismisses them, right as he's enraged with them and is going to say good bye to them last time, the last thing that happens to him is he's says oh, wait a second. They just bowed before me. If they just bowed before me, that crazy dream I had when I was 17, what do I now suspect is the case that I never knew until now?
Back when I was 17 everybody in the family thought that the dream just being the wild imaginations of a 17-year-old egomaniac kid was about a kid dreaming that he is destined to rule over his family and it's destined to happen then. No, no, no. There's a whole other possibility in the meaning of the dream. You see the dream wasn't coming true back then. The dream is happening now. The dream was talking about now, which all of the sudden makes another thing click for Joseph. I get it. That's why I was a stalk of wheat. What am I in charge of now? All the wheat in the world. Now I understand why they're bowing. They're bowing because they're desperate for wheat and I'm the one person who can provide it. That's what the dream meant.
Now here's the interesting thing. If that's what the dream meant, what kind of guidance is it meant to give Joseph? Strangely, it doesn't give him any guidance at all. All the dream does is foretell a moment in time. This moment in time. The moment when Joseph is in charge of all the wheat and the brothers are desperate for wheat. But the question what should I do, how should I respond, the dream doesn't address.
It is interesting, you could imagine if you were the screenwriter and you could write the script for Joseph's dream and you want Joseph to have this dream now so he should know what he should do, he shouldn't have a dream of him being the stalk of wheat and all the people bowing to him. What should the dream be? The dream should be there's this big stalk of wheat, everyone's bowing and the big stalk of wheat is throwing wheat packages to everybody, giving, like, first-aid packages to everybody, Red Cross. That's what the dream should've been. Then Joseph realizes what he's supposed to do. He's supposed to take care of everybody.
If that's what the purpose of the dream was to give Joseph guidance at this moment in time, why wasn't the dream clearer? Why did the dream just portray the moment without portraying what Joseph is supposed to do? Leading, by the way, to some confusion because there is another possibility about what Joseph's supposed to do, which is what? If you were Joseph and you thought this is the moment foretold, but there was no guidance as to what you were supposed to do, you could imagine a world in which Joseph might think here are my lousy brothers that tried to kill me and now here's this moment where they're desperate, what should I do? Maybe this is my moment for revenge. Maybe this is my moment for God's sake revenge? Maybe this is it? Why doesn't the dream tell Joseph what to do? What's the answer to that question?
Audience Member: Because the first dream, I think, was just to revert back that the first dream was something that was going to happen, but now we need to look at the second.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, possibly. But I don't see the second dream necessarily gives him better information. Let's get answers to that question why doesn't the dream tell Joseph what to do?
Audience Member: He has to figure what to do.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. Because he has to figure out what to do. The dream can't tell you what to do. If the dream is predictive of the future, the dream can't predict what Joseph will do because it's not determined what Joseph will do. It's up to Joseph what he will do. All the dream, which is predictive, can do is explain outside factors. It can say one day you will find yourself in this situation. You are going to have to decide what you're going to do. However, the dream does help Joseph in one way because if you were Joseph at that moment when you saw your brothers and you were so angry at them, so angry at them that you were going to close the safe and take revenge and I stopped you and I interviewed you and I said why are you so angry at your brothers. What would you say?
Audience Member: They tried to kill me.
Rabbi Fohrman: They tried to kill me. Keep on going.
Audience Member: They sold me.
Rabbi Fohrman: They sold me. They betrayed me. They ruined my family life. They uprooted me. I had a nice life as a kid in Canaan and my childhood is gone forever. They intractably ruined my life and now I'm off in a strange land. Yes, I have power, but I'd rather be in Canaan with my family with a nice life. That kind of thing. But what do you see in this dream that messes with that narrative?
The dream says that this moment was foretold. The dream says that one way or the other you're going to be in a position where you're the big stalk of wheat and where everyone else is desperate. At which point, as hard as you want, as angry as you want to be with your brothers, you have to come to grips with the fact that it wasn't just them who put you here. It was God too. And therefore how angry can you feel. Now you still don't know whether the right thing to do is to take revenge or whether the right thing to do is to give them food. You still don't have an answer to that question. But this takes enough of the edge off of your anger that you can see the possibility of feeding them. Then something else happens.
The next thing that happens is Joseph proposes a test. "B'zot tibacheinu chei Par'o" I'm going to test you. I want to see your little brother. I want to see whether you're spies. I want one of you to stay behind and the rest of you can go home. When that happens the brothers start speaking amongst themselves and say something fascinating, something which must've made an impression upon Joseph; Joseph, a brother whose name kind of means something.
What does Joseph's name mean? "Asaf Elokim et cherpati" his mother had named him. His mother shamed -- shamed perhaps by his father, felt shame at the hands of Laban and Leah, tricked on the night of her wedding. If you ever read Great Expectations by Dickens, a Miss Havisham moment. Spurned at the alter in your white dress in your wedding and having to deal with that perpetual sense of shame. Finally "asaf Elokim et cherpati" has given her the child and you were the child named that is supposed to redeem your mother, Rachel's, shame.
Now you think what should I be doing? Should I be taking revenge against my brothers? These are the ones who wanted to bring further shame to the name of Rachel. Maybe I should take revenge. But now you overhear this conversation amongst your brothers and in that conversation they say to themselves the following.
"Aval asheimim anachnu al achinu asher ra'inu tzarat nafsho bit'chanino eileinu v'lo shamanu." We're guilty about our brother. We saw his pain in the pit. We saw his pain, but we didn't hear. That's why this terrible thing happened to us. "Vaya'an Reuven" and then Reuben said "halo amarti aleichem laimor al techet'u bayeled" didn't I tell you that you shouldn't sin against the child "v'lo shamatem" and you didn't listen to me "gam damo hinei nidrash" now his blood is being sought "v'heim lo yad'u ki shomei'a Yosef" but they didn't know that Joseph was listening. They didn't know he understood Hebrew. Joseph went and cried and then took Simeon and imprisoned Simeon.
Why Simeon? Why Simeon of all people? The answer lies in the verses we just read. Why Simeon? What did Joseph just learn by overhearing this conversation? You see if you were Joseph who should you imprison? If you're going to imprison one person, you are going to imprison the party most responsible. Who would the party most responsible be if you didn't know anything else? It's the oldest kid. Who's the oldest kid? The oldest kid is going to be Reuben, but what did you just hear? You just heard Reuben pipe up and say I told you guys not to do it. So now you know Reuben was on your side. Who's the next guy down? Simeon. So he imprisoned Simeon. But it's more than that. Pay attention to the verbs here.
"Vayomru ish el achiv" one person said to another we are guilty of our brother "asher ra'inu tzarat nafsho bit'chanino eileinu v'lo shamanu" we saw his pain and we didn't listen to his cries. Listen to the verbs. We saw his pain, we didn't listen to his cries. Reuben and Simeon how did they get their names? What was Reuben named for? Reuben was named for seeing. What was Simeon named for? Simeon was named for hearing. We saw his pain, but we didn't hear. It's almost like the see-er was responsive, but the hearer wasn't responsive.
"Vaya'an Reuven" and Reuben, the see-er said, I told you not to do it "v'lo shamatem" but you didn't listen. "V'heim lo yad'u" and they didn't realize "ki shomei'a Yosef" that this time someone else was listening. That's when Joseph imprisoned the listener, Simeon.
But it's more than that because if you think of the names Reuben and Simeon carefully, it's not just that one is named for seeing and one is named for hearing. What is Reuben named about for seeing and what is Simeon named about for hearing? Why exactly did Reuben get his name? What did Leah say when she named Reuben? What exactly did she say? "Ra'ah Hashem b'an'I," God has seen my suffering. God has seen my oppression. Simeon, what exactly did Leah say when she named Simeon, Simeon? "Sham'a Hashem ki snu'ah anochi" God has heard that I was hated.
Now if you were a kid that had these names and the opportunity for the Sale of Joseph rolls around, what would you think your job is? Put yourself in Reuben's shoes. Here you are. You're named by your mother for her sense of suffering, for the fact that she feels that she got a raw deal in this relationship. Then Father favors Joseph, the child of Rachel. You're the firstborn, but no, Father has his own ideas about who the firstborn is. Joseph gets this fancy coat and Joseph is second in charge and you are second fiddle because you're the child of Leah. But you were named for your mother's suffering.
Then one day the brothers finally rally to your side. They see the usurper Joseph coming and they say here comes the dreamer and they say let's get him. And they're going to throw him in the pit. At that moment, what are you thinking, you who were named God has seen my mother's suffering? Every fiber of your being is saying this is the moment for which you were named. This is the moment where you were there to vindicate the honor of your mother, where you were there to stand up and except the crown of the firstborn given to you by all the brothers who were going to put the usurper in jail. "Ra'ah Hashem b'an'i" God has seen my mother's suffering. But that's not what Reuben did.
Reuben instead was the brother who wasn't listened to, who against the mob said "al techet'u bayeled" do not do this. You can't do this. Why? What about his name? How did Reuben understand his name, "ra'ah Hashem b'an'i"? Rueben took an alternative understanding of his name. Reuben had a choice about how to understand his name. The alternative understanding is if my mother named me for the terrible suffering that she felt and God saw that suffering and was on her side because she was suffering and I am named for that, then what's my job? My job is that when I see someone suffering, no matter who that is, I stand up and try not to allow it to happen. That's how I vindicate my mother's name even if it's the rival brother because right now he's screaming. That's how Reuben saw his name.
Simeon chose to see his name differently. "Sham'a Hashem ki snu'ah anochi" he saw it in a partisan way. God heard the suffering, saw that my mother was hated and therefore I am on my mother's side and it's up to me to choose vengeance.
Fascinatingly, the same choice Joseph has about how to deal with his brothers at this moment. He now sees played out in Reuben and Simeon, in their discussion right now, these are the two options. Revenge or no, if you see someone suffering, you act even though it's the other side. He looks at that and says I kind of like what Reuben did. Imprison Simeon and then what does he do? He's still not sure. He's still taunting his brothers, but he sends them back with food. He says I will be there for them and he sends them back with food.
Then later on when he reveals himself to his brothers in the beginning of Vayigash when he reveals himself finally to his brothers, listen to that language. "V'lo yachol Yosef l'hit'apeik" Joseph couldn't hold himself back anymore "l'chol hanitzavim alav" oh, there's that word again back from Jacob's dream, back from his own dream. He was the stalk that was standing. There was only one stalk that was standing and all the other stalks were bowing and now there's attendants who were also standing, Egyptians, and he says this is the moment where I reveal myself. There can't be anyone else standing. That's not the way it was in the dream and he dismisses all the other nitzavim alav. "Vayitein et kolo bib'chi vayishmi'u Mitzrayim vayishma beit Par'o" and he says "hotzi'u kol ish mei'alai."
I have to tell you something chilling, by the way. When I was researching this, I was researching this in a Google Doc and in a Google Doc -- the difference between a Google Doc and this setup over here is that in a Google Doc the underlying text is malleable so you can change the underlying text in the Torah, if you want to, because it's not a PDF that you can't erase things. So I'm working with this text and I accidentally hit the space bar and I erased the space between two words pushing them together to be one word. I noticed that and I was about to reinsert the space when I looked at the two words that I just put together accidentally. The two words were ish and mei'alai right here in this verse when he says "hotzi'u kol ish mei'alai" make everyone go away when he puts himself before the brothers.
Before I could put the space, I just read it as one word. When you read it as one word "hotzi'u kol ish mei'alai" Aleph-Yud-Shin-Mem-Ayin-Lamed-Yud what is it spelling? "Hotzi'u kol Ishma'eili" why Ishmaelites? What does Ishmaelites have to do with all this? How did he get down to Egypt? It was the caravan of Ishmaelites.
What is he saying to himself as he reveals himself to his brothers? In "hotzi'u kol ish mei'alai" get all these people out. He's talking to himself and he's saying you can't be so angry at these brothers. He is about to say to them "al yichar b'eineichem ki m'chartem oti heina" don't be angry that you sold me. It was God. God did it. It wasn't just you. I know it. I know it from my dream.
The other thing he tells himself who's the other people he could have been angry at? The Ishmaelites in those caravans. "Hotzi'u kol Ishma'eili mei'alai" it's as if he is telling himself it wasn't the darn Ishmaelites either. It wasn't my brothers. It wasn't the Ishmaelites. It wasn't anything else. It was really God. I had to have been brought down here. He's wrestling with his feelings with his brothers and finally coming out on Reuben's side, for real. He's done with the taunting. He's done with the playing with them. He's just I'm here to take care of you. I'm here to take care of you.
Now coming back to Jacob's dream and Joseph's dream, if you overlay Joseph's dream on top of Jacob's dream, it's almost as if here is this image of how the Jewish nation is going to come to be. There's this ladder and in the next generation the ladder becomes the stalk, this upright stalk. "Hayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" your children are like the dust of the land "u'paratzta" they're going to burst forth "yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegbah." Now maybe in one telling of that story, before the Sale of Joseph, that would've happened u'paratzta in the times of Peretz. It would've happened in Israel where land and children would've come together, but that wasn't to be anymore after the Sale of Joseph.
The Sale of Joseph brought the people down to Egypt and therefore these things would be split. It would be a long time until we got the land, but we would start becoming a nation except it would happen in someone else's land. That's part of what would enslave us. But in a way it's better than the alternative because the alternative was famine. How did we have the resources to be u'paratzta yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegbah" to burst forth? Where did that population explosion come from? How come we had so many kids? Why did we have so many kids?
The answer is actually found in Vayigash. If you look just a little before in Vayigash, the population explosion actually takes place -- remember at the end of Vayigash there's this moment where Joseph finally settles the people into the land. He gives them food. It says he gave them "lechem l'fi hataf" but then you hear about these poor Egyptians and they are starving and they're selling everything, but Joseph's giving this food to these 11 people. It's almost like Joseph makes this choice. It was a choice in which he expressed loyalty to his brothers.
At the time, it made sense which is, you know, if you were Joseph and you're in the castle and you have your Excel spreadsheet in front of you and you're figuring out how many metric tons of grain you have. You come to the conclusion that you've got enough grain to get everybody through with about 1400 calories a day with about a three percent mortality rate if you give everybody those 1400 calories. But then you say to yourself, I've got 11 brothers. Should I give them just 1400 calories a day or maybe I should give them 1600 calories a day, 1700 calories a day? You could understand giving your brothers 1700 calories a day.
In the end that's what Joseph did and with those extra calories, the text says "vayifru vayirbu me'od" they had lots of kids when nobody else did because they didn't have the food. Now at the time, the Egyptians were totally okay with it, but a generation or two later looking back on the population explosion, they're not okay with it anymore. Pharaoh looks and the Pharaoh who doesn't remember Joseph all of the sudden is worried "pen nosaf gam hu al soneinu" a Joseph word. It's almost like I'm forgetting Joseph, but I remember him and wasn't this population explosion because of Joseph. This is the last time we're going to need a Joseph and Jews to take us through a famine. He enslaves the people and what does he enslave them with? What does he make them do? Build storehouses. Why storehouses of all things? Never again. Never again are we going to have to come onto someone else to take us through a famine.
At the time, it was an act of love. It was an act of loyalty that Joseph was doing for his brothers. In the end, Jacob's dream became actualized through Joseph's dream. The ladder became a stalk. The "zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" the other people, they bowed. And when they were desperate for wheat, Joseph did not allow the instinct for revenge to take over to his great credit. He saw the example of Reuben and said I want to be like that. In the end, he chose to feed his brothers. Through his decision, and his decision only about how to interpret that dream, his own dream that said there would be this moment when they're desperate for wheat and his response in the affirmative and I will feed them and that's what I'm here for; to feed them. He became the engine of "v'hayah zar'acha k'afar ha'aretz" "u'paratzta yamah vakeidmah v'tzafonah vanegbah." He became the engine for the growth of the people.
I want to close with the notion that in so doing when the ladder became the stalk or the stalk became the ladder, think about what it means to become the ladder? What was the ladder? The heaven on top, there's earth on bottom, what does the ladder do? It connects them. Maybe that's the destiny. It's the destiny of the people. The people's destiny in one way or another, they're mission statement if you had to combine -- put the mission statement in one image, in one visceral image, an image that's worth a thousand words, the mission statement is the ladder. The mission statement is your job is to connect heaven and earth. It's not a job that God can do. God needs a nation to do it. God's up in heaven. Only people can connect heaven and earth.
The challenge for Jacob is -- right now you're Jacob and you see a ladder that's external to you, can you become the ladder? The very first person who did was Joseph. How did Joseph do it? How did Joseph connect heaven and earth?
The first thing he did is he took messages from heaven and he was able to interpret the dream of Pharaoh, something that was off in heaven that Pharaoh didn't know what it meant, and he was able to explain it. When he was able to explain it, he was able to concretize the meaning of what that dream is in terms of administrative details. Here's what we actually need to do to survive these years. He was able to take something ethereal in heaven and make it very concrete and earthly. Because he did, what did Pharaoh say? "Acharei hodi'a Elokim otcha et kol zot" if God made known all this to you "ein navon v'chacham kamocha" you are the great wise and intelligent man. You've been able to sort of connect heaven and earth.
The next way Joseph connects heaven and earth is through a moral choice. He chooses to feed his brothers and to take care of them and to take abundance fertility coming from the heavens and to share it with his brothers rather than wreaking revenge on them and in that way becomes another connector between heaven and earth. When that happens all of the sudden the ladder isn't external to the people anymore; the ladder is the people. The ladder is Joseph. He is the first connecter between heaven and earth leading to his second dream and with this I'll close.
The image in the second dream. The riddle of the bowing stars. What a strange thing? What would it even look for stars to bow? But now think about it. If you became the ladder, if the ladder weren't external to you, but you were the first manifestation of someone becoming the ladder, what would it mean to become the ladder? According to Jacob's dream, what did the ladder look like? "Hinei sulam mutzav artzah" the ladder had its feet on the ground and where was its head? Its head was in heaven. Now think about Joseph's second dream.
How could you imagine stars bowing to you? When you're a regular person and you look at the stars, where do you look to see the stars? Up. But what if your head were in heaven? What if you were the ladder? Then where would you look to see the sun and the moon and the stars? You wouldn't look up anymore. You'd be in heaven. You'd look across. In the act of becoming of the ladder from your perspective -- it's a perspective switch -- would cause an optical allusion. What would it look like as you became the ladder? You would go from seeing the stars vertically above you, all of the sudden the stars wouldn't look vertically above you. What would they look like? They would look like they'd be coming down. All the stars and the sun and the moon, they'd be looking horizontal. What would it look like just happened to you? The stars and the moon and the sun all bowed to me. That's what it would look like.
The second dream says that when you actualize -- when you choose -- the first dream puts a choice in front of you. What are you going to do when the brothers come to you desperate for food? Are you going to take revenge or are you going to feed them? Only one of those answers will bridge heaven and earth, but if you choose the answer that bridges heaven and earth, you become the ladder and all of the sudden it looks like the sun and the moon and the stars all bow to you. It looks like your eyes are in heaven.
This is sort of part one of how the ladder becomes a recurring theme in our life. When I come back next time with you what I want to show you is that there's another moment in Jewish history involving Joseph and the sun and the moon and the stars. It actually involves -- when else in Jewish history do we meet the sun and the moon and the stars? When else is there a moment when it almost seems like the sun and the moon and the stars obey the word of man? When does that happen in Tanach?
It happens only once in the Book of Joshua in the battle right in the middle of the Book of Joshua. "Shemesh b'Giv'on dom v'yarei'ach b'Eimek Ayalon." In that battle, the text itself says something happens which never again happens which is that the army of heaven take their orders from a person.
Isn't it interesting that Joshua comes, of all people, from the tribe of Ephraim, from Joseph of all people? Was that what Joseph was dreaming about in the long term, that moment? If so, it would seem that that moment is a moment when we as a nation, not just Joseph as a person, but we as a nation begin to express the moral heroism that makes us that ladder with its head in the stars such that we would be equals with the sun and the moon and the stars, that they would listen to us, that they wouldn't be impervious to us. There was a hidden act of heroism at that moment that somehow mimicked the acts of heroism of Joseph, but on the international stage.
When we come back, I want to look at that story in the Book of Joshua and see it in relationship to Joseph's dream and Jacob's.