Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Seven Times Seven? Yericho, Yovel & the Omer Count

A new shiur on the meaning of Sefiras HaOmer and the unique Kedusha of Shavuos. Click here to listen to the recording. 

A big thank you to Mrs. Shoshana Rivka Bloom of Link's TLC program for inviting me to speak.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Did He Take Us Out?

Firstly, a big Mazal Tov to the Perl, Bookbinder and Gordon families on the engagement of Rivkie Perl of Jerusalem to Shalom Bookbinder of Toronto! May the young couple be blessed with great Simcha & Shalom and all good things, עד בלי די!

A Yasher Koach to our dear friend Selwyn Gerber for hosting today's class and for bringing out an exceptional bottle of bourbon in celebration of Rivkie's engagement.

Click here to listen to the shiur, recorded live this afternoon at Gerber & Co.

Here's a preview: The shiur presents a new understanding of the Haggadah's mysterious line: "יכול מראש חודש, you might think [the story of the Exodus should be told] on Rosh Chodesh... the Torah therefore states, בעבור זה, 'it was for this' - [tell the story] at a time when Matzah and Marror are before you."

In other words, one might have thought Hashem took us out of Egypt because He wanted to rest His Shechina in the Mishkan on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. The Torah therefore teaches us that He did not do it for Himself, He did it for us. Now click on the link and listen, and you will understand. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Shabbos at Sinai: Experiencing the Impossible

The Torah invests much ink and parchment in describing the buildup to the Ten Commandments. Remembering the seminal event of our history is a mitzvah in and of itself; we must read with a listening ear.
"Hashem came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain..." (Shemos 19:20)
It sounds as if the Creator of the Universe left heaven behind, entered our world and landed on a hill in the Sinai Desert, but this is not the whole story. The reality of the revelation was more complex.
"Hashem came down on Mount Sinai" - One might think He literally came down onto it, the verse therefore states [later], "You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens..." (20:19). [The combined verses] teach us that He bent the upper and lower heavens and spread them out on the mountain like a sheet on a bed. And then the divine throne - כסא הכבוד - descended on them. (Rashi ad loc. citing Mechilta)
Hashem was on the mountain and in heaven, at the very same time? Yes. He brought heaven down with Him. This resolves the contradiction and Rashi believes that this is the correct way to understand the text. 

Forgive me, but what exactly are we supposed to do with this information? Disregard it as inscrutable and irrelevant? If that were true, the Torah would not record it, Rashi would not comment, and we would all live happily ever after. Hashem is describing the scene for posterity and He is undoubtedly telling us something important. Our job is to figure out what that something is.
תורה היא וללמוד אני צריך


The Torah gives us two versions of the Ten Commandments, one on location in Parshas Yisro and one forty years later when Moshe reiterates them in Parshas Va'eschananEarly commentators posit that the first version appeared on the original tablets which were smashed by Moshe when he saw the Golden Calf, and the second version appeared on the second set of tablets (Gaon cited by Ibn Ezra). 

Although both versions are basically identical, significant discrepancies do appear in the fourth commandment, the mitzvah of Shabbos. In the first version, we are told to "remember" - זכור - the day of Shabbos to sanctify it, whereas in the in the second version, the mitzvah is not to remember, but to "guard" - שמור - the day of Shabbos to sanctify it. As the Ramban writes, this is indeed a fundamental change, for a mitzvah to "remember" requires a positive act, reciting Kiddush, as opposed to "guard" which is essentially passive, abstaining from violating Shabbos. 

The Gemora resolves the problem. שמור וזכור בדבור אחד נאמרו. Both obligations - to remember and to guard - are equally valid and were declared simultaneously by Hashem at Mount Sinai.

Generally, the Torah does not give reasons for mitzvos, however, Shabbos is one of the exceptions, and here we find another major discrepancy between the two versions of the Fourth Commandment. According to the first version, working for six days and resting on the seventh affirms that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The second version, however, makes no mention of creation. Rather, it states that by observing Shabbos we affirm the Exodus from Egypt. Both ideas find expression in Kiddush, where Shabbos is said to be both זכר למעשה בראשית, commemorating creation, and זכר ליציאת מצרים, commemorating the Exodus.


The changes to the text of the Fourth Commandment are not random; they are complementary. There are two ways for man to relate to God and, correspondingly, there are two types of holiness and two dimensions to Shabbos. 

As the infinite and timeless being that created our universe, God is unfathomable to the human mind. Awareness of God thus generates awe and humility, turning man into a vessel for Kedusha. It takes work to gain and maintain this awareness and that is the mitzvah of "Zachor." We must engage in a positive act, the verbal declaration of Kiddush, to sanctify the day of Shabbos with an awareness of the Creator. This is the original Shabbos recorded in the first version of the Ten Commandments.

When the Jews sinned and built a Golden Calf, it became clear that this ideal was too challenging. Human beings are born, raised, and live out their lives trapped inside a physical universe. As such, our minds are more comfortable with the concrete than the abstract, and a physical idol seems more real than something we cannot see or touch. Even if man knows the truth, it is unrealistic to expect him to maintain an uninterrupted awareness of the Creator. And so, for the second set of tablets, Hashem emphasized a more accessible type of Kedusha: awareness of Hashem's presence in our world. While Hashem's essence is infinite and unknowable, He is also the one who entered Egypt and saved the Jewish People. The truth is, we know Him well; He cares for us and He is a constant presence in our lives. No effort is needed to generate this Kedusha; it is always there. We need only to preserve it and abstain from violating it. This is the mitzvah of "Shamor."

"It is a sign between Me and you." The day of Shabbos speaks to fullness of our relationship and as such both types of Kedusha are present: God as Creator and God as Redeemer. The Creator is beyond us; the Redeemer is with us. This dichotomy is the paradox of the God/man relationship - and it cannot be any other way. One type of Kedusha without the other is not only incomplete, it is false. A person who accepts God as Creator but denies His involvement in our lives is no less a heretic than the person who humanizes God and relates to Him as a friend. An authentic experience of God requires the coexistence of both perspectives: שמור וזכור בדבור אחד נאמרו. Hashem said "guard" and "remember" simultaneously. This is the unified Kedusha of Shabbos.


The duality of man's relationship with Hashem finds expression in the beracha we recite before performing a mitzvah. 
Blessed are You Hashem our lord, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us to...
The sentence begins by referring to Hashem in second person (blessed are You) and then switches mid-sentence to third person (His mitzvos). It is grammatically inconsistent and deliberately so. As we prepare to perform a mitzvah, we encounter the impossible, the concurrent presence and distance of the God Who sanctifies us.

Returning now to Sinai, the meaning of the contradictory verses is clear. When giving the commandments, Hashem spoke to us from the mountain and from heaven. Yes, that is impossible, but it is the familiar impossibility we call Kedusha.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Flavor of Love: Towards a New Appreciation of the Manna

Although Pharaoh capitulated at the tenth plague and finally freed the Jews, Hashem wasn't done with him yet.
I shall strengthen Pharaoh's heart and he will pursue you. (Shemos 14:4)
Pharaoh pursues the Jews to the sea, the sea splits, and then... you know the story. The question is why? Why split the sea? If Hashem wanted to kill Pharaoh and destroy his army, He had ample opportunity to do it in Egypt during the Ten Plagues. There was no need for yet another miracle.

As the Egyptian army closed in on the Jews, Hashem told Moshe exactly why this was happening.

ואיכבדה בפרעה ובכל חילו ברכבו ובפרשיו - "I will be glorified through Pharaoh, and through his entire army, his chariots and his horsemen. (14:17; see also 14:18, 14:4)
Hashem split for the sea for His kavod, His honor and glory. Assuming that the Creator is not insecure or arrogant, how are we to understand the meaning of this? 

A clue to the answer appears later in the Parsha, in the story of the manna. When the Jews run out of Matzah, they complain.

The entire community of Bnei Yisroel complained to Moshe and Aaron in the desert. The Bnei Yisroel said to them, “If only Hashem had killed us in the land of Egypt when we sat by the meat pot, when we ate bread to the fill! You have taken us out to this desert to kill this entire congregation by starvation!” (Shemos 16:2-3)
Yes, it is a big chutzpah, but worse, it's heresy. The Jews accuse Moshe and Aaron of bringing them into the desert when they should know good and well that Hashem is the one who took them out of Egypt. Ignoring their pleas for food, Moshe and Aaron address the basic issue of faith first. 

Moshe and Aaron said to the entire Bnei Yisroel, “Tonight you will know that Hashem took you out of the land of Egypt, ובקר וראיתם את כבוד י-ה-ו-ה, and in the morning you will see the glory of Hashem. Your complaints against Hashem have been heard. What are we that you complain against us?” (ibid 16:6-7)

Moshe explains: "When Hashem gives you (quail) meat to eat in the evening and (manna) bread to the fill in the morning..." (ibid 16:8). In other words, since you seem to think we took you out of Egypt, the arrival of quail tonight will prove that Hashem orchestrated the Exodus, and in the morning, with the arrival of the manna, you will witness His glory.

Quail vs. Manna

According to the Ibn Ezra, both the quail and the manna served as "signs" that Hashem took them out of Egypt. The Ramban, however, points to the plain meaning of Moshe's words. The manna's function was different. It was an experience of Hashem's honor and glory, His kavod

What does this mean? What is Hashem's "kavod"?

The Ramban explains that the quail and the manna are not comparable. The quail were ordinary birds that were brought in by a strong wind; the manna was a unique creation ex nihilo. When Hashem performs extraordinary wonders, the full extent of His power and sovereignty - כבוד מלכותו - is made manifest. This, writes the Ramban, was what Moshe meant when he said, "In the morning you will see the kavod of Hashem."

The distinction between the quail and the manna is clear, but it raises a different question. Was the manna really necessary? If the arrival of the quail reminded the nation that Hashem took them out of Egypt, why the need for another miracle? If Hashem wanted to give the Jews bread, He could deliver sacks of flour the same way He delivered flocks of quail. Why perform the super-miracle of the manna?

Living on Light

The Ramban continues his comments on this verse with a description of the extraordinary nature of the manna. Extraordinary is an understatement. He begins by quoting Rabbi Akivah (Yoma 75b) who said that angels eat manna. The Ramban explains that to make manna, Hashem took the spiritual light that emanates from His Shechina and gave it physical form. Manna is the splendor of the Shechina corporealized!

It goes without saying that I don't have the foggiest clue what this means. To borrow an Artscrollism, Kabbalistic concepts are "beyond the scope of this elucidation" (see header). Nonetheless, I quote it for it brings us to the Ramban's next big idea.

If the manna was so lofty and spiritual, how did it sustain men of flesh and blood? The truth is, ordinary mortals cannot live on manna. However, the Jews of that generation were not ordinary. They witnessed the splitting of the sea, and it changed them. When the sea split, it was a revelation of God greater than the prophet Yechezkel ever saw. In the words of the Ramban, the souls of the Jews were "elevated" by the experience, and that is what made it possible for them to live on manna, the food of angels.

The Ramban thus links the sea and the manna: both are manifestations of the Shechina, and as such, the sea is what made the manna possible. These two miracles also share another distinction, a most puzzling common denominator: both the splitting of the sea and the manna stand out as the greatest miracles of our history - and we didn't need either of them. Both could be deleted from our history with no negative effect. But the question answers itself. It certainly is true that we did not need the manna or the sea - and that is exactly the point. These miracles functioned solely to reveal the kavod of Hashem.

If Pharaoh did not pursue the Jews and the sea never split, then the Exodus would simply be the salvation of an oppressed people. Had the manna never appeared, the quail would serve to keep the Jews alive in the desert. The formative miracles of our history would all be purely utilitarian, and this was not Hashem's intent.

The completely unnecessary revelation at the sea and the edible light called manna were Hashem's way of saying that something else is happening here: the Creator desires an intimate relationship with man. Hashem wants the Chosen People to recognize His kavod and to know who He is. He therefore orchestrated a ruse, a transparent excuse to reveal Himself for no reason other than love itself.

A Nes of Faithfulness; a Nes of Kindness

Now we understand Hashem's response to the Jew's embarrassing failure of faith. When the Jews forgot their history and blamed Moshe for taking them into the desert, Hashem refreshes the their memory with a replay of the two fundamental messages of the Exodus. First, He restores their faith by delivering quail and reminding them that He took them out of Egypt. This happens at night, matching the original emancipation - the Tenth Plague - which occurred at midnight. Hashem then reveals his kavod with the manna in the morning, just as the Jews experienced the splitting of the sea in the morning.

The timing of these events has great symbolic significance. The rising sun proclaims Hashem's kindness and the darkness of night calls for faith. This dichotomy, the contrast of day and night, was spelled out by the Psalmist. "To speak of your kindness in the morning and of your faithfulness in the evening" (Tehillim 92:3). Taking us out of Egypt was a divine act of faithfulness, a fulfilment of Hashem's promise to Avrahom. That is why it occurred at night, a time of faith. In contrast, the forefathers were never told about the revelation at the sea. It was a surprise gift; an expression of Hashem's love for His fiancee, the Chosen Nation. That is why it occurred in the morning, a time of kindness.

The same is true for the quail and the manna. Providing food was an act of faithfulness - Hashem had to take responsibility for the nation's survival - and so it came at night, like the freedom from slavery. But the manna, the light of the Shechina, was a divine kiss, if you will, and that is why it came with the rising sun, like the splitting of the sea. 


Hashem introduced the manna with these words:
"I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. The nation will go out and collect each day's ration daily, in order for Me to test them, will they follow my instructions or not." (16:4)
What is the test of the manna? The Ramban explains that it is not easy for people to live in a desert and have to rely on miracles for survival. To agree to such an existence requires an extraordinary degree of faith. By entering the desert after the Exodus the Jews demonstrated their loyalty and Hashem took note. "I remember the the kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials; you followed after Me into the desert, a land where nothing grows" (Yermiyah 2:2). With the challenge of manna, Hashem continually tested the strength of the nation's loyalty.

The manna thus served as a barometer of faith and a geiger counter for sin. "Just as the prophets would speak to the Jews [about crimes they hide] in holes and cracks, so too the manna would tell the Jews what [lurks] in the holes and cracks" (Yoma 75a). Manna fell at the front door of the righteous, but the less righteous you were, the further you had to travel to find your portion of manna (ibid). It was a symbiotic relationship: manna produced faith and faith produced manna.

Stop Praying?

When the Jews were trapped between the enemy and the sea, they were obviously terrified. Some began to cry out in prayer (14:10). Moshe said to the people, "Do not be afraid! Stand and watch the salvation of Hashem... Hashem will do battle for you, and you will be silent!" (14:13). Hashem then said to Moshe, "Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Jews and move!" (14:14).

It is surprising enough to hear Moshe telling people to stop praying, stranger yet, Hashem tells Moshe to stop too! Why is everyone so down on prayer?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that prayer may be an appropriate response in a crisis, but it is not always sufficient. Sometimes extra merit is required for salvation and the call of the hour is not prayer, but an act of faith. The blind march of the people directly into the deadly waves was needed to induce the divine intervention that split the sea.

Once again we find that the manna and the sea share a basic feature. This time it is not the quality or the purpose of the miracle, but the driving force behind it: faith. Both at the sea and in the desert, acts of faith produced acts of God. The reason is easy to understand. When we rise above self-centered, predictable behavior and demonstrate our love with a sacrificial gesture, Hashem responds in kind, violating the natural order to reveal His love for us. Ironically, on both sides of the relationship, meaning is derived specifically from the needlessness of it all. As in human relationships, love between man and God finds expression in the things you don't have to do. (See Mesilas Yesharim, chap. 18)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Give Love, Get Love: Why Moshe Was Chosen

Only thirty-two verses into the Book of Shemos and the Jewish People are already enslaved and oppressed, Pharaoh is engaged in genocide, and the young Moshe is comfortably ensconced in the royal palace. 

"And it happened in those days that Moshe grew up. He went out to his brethren, וירא בסבלותם, and he saw their burdens..." (2:11). 

Rashi explains. "He saw their burdens: נתן עיניו ולבו להיות מיצר עליהם. Translated literally, "He set his eyes and heart to be distressed about them." In plain English, Moshe invested the necessary effort to feel their pain. Although the phrase "he saw their burdens" is ambiguous, the introductory words "he went out to his brethren" indicates that Moshe was not a gawker or a journalist. Moshe cared about the Jews and related to them as a brother.

The depth of Moshe's empathy is described by the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 1:27).
"He saw their burdens" - What does "he saw" mean? [Moshe] saw their burdens and he cried. He said, "I feel your pain. I wish I could die for you! There is no labor more difficult than working with cement." He shouldered [their burdens] and helped everyone.
Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi HaGalilee said, [Moshe] saw the burden of adults on children and the burden of children on adults, the burden of men on women and the burden of women on men, the burden of the elderly on the young and the burden of the young on the elderly. Abandoning his rank, he went and lightened their burdens. [He did it all] acting as if he was assisting Pharaoh.
God said, "You abandoned your own business and went to see the pain of the Jews and you treated them like brothers, I too will abandon the upper and lower realms and I will speak with you." This is what the verse states [by the burning bush]: "Hashem saw that he turned to look" (3:4), i.e., God saw that Moshe turned away from his own business to see their burdens, that is why "God called to him from within the bush..." (ibid). 
It was not the arrogance of noblesse oblige that motivated Moshe's charitable activities, nor feelings of guilt for his privileged position. Moshe was driven by a simple and pure love for his fellow Jews, his "brethren." However, the Midrash makes it clear that the selection of Moshe was not due to his love for the Jews or even for attempting to alleviate their suffering. Moshe was chosen specifically because he abandoned his rank and went down into the trenches. This elicited a matching divine response: "I too will abandon the upper and lower realms and I will speak with you." 

The Good Kapos

To help oversee the massive slave population, the Egyptians appointed Jews to serve as taskmasters, similar to the system of Kapos implemented millennia later by the Nazis. When Pharaoh gave the order to cease providing straw for bricks, it became the responsibility of the Jewish taskmasters to enforce the quota. Jews scoured the countryside in search of straw, but they came up short. 
The Jewish taskmasters appointed by Pharaoh's supervisors were beaten... The Jewish taskmasters went and cried to Pharaoh, "Why have you done this to your servants? Your servants are not provided with straw and we are told to make bricks?! Your servants were beaten! It is a national injustice!" [Pharaoh] replied, "You are lazy! Lazy! That is why you say let us go bring offerings to Hashem..."  
Rashi quotes a Midrash: 
The taskmasters were Jewish and they took pity on their fellow [Jews] and would not pressure them. When they supplied the bricks to the Egyptian supervisors and the total was lacking, they beat them for not pushing the workers [to complete the quota]. The Jewish taskmasters were therefore rewarded [years later] by [being appointed to] the Sanhedrin, the High Court.   
To qualify for the Sanhedrin, a great legal mind is insufficient. Hashem wants justices of great compassion; men willing to take a beating for their fellow Jew. (Compassion is actually a legislated Halachic requirement for a judge, cf. Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:3.) 

However, there is another point here. The taskmasters bravely challenged Pharaoh and declared, וחטאת עמך - "It is a national injustice!" Those who stood up against the tyrannical decrees of the Egyptian State are the ones selected to serve on the High Court in the future Jewish State. Hashem directs the flow of His Torah, His Halacha, and His Justice into the world through individuals who sacrificed for justice. Once again, we find the courageous acts of the righteous eliciting a matching divine response.

I Will Be What I Will Be

At the burning bush, Moshe asks Hashem what he should tell the people when they ask for God's name. Hashem responds, "I will be what I will be" (3:14). The answer is a riddle and the Ramban quotes a Midrash to explain it. "Just as you will be with Me, so will I be with you. If they open their hands and act charitably, then I too will open My hand... and if they don't open their hands..." 

Hashem is saying that He relates to the Jews "measure for measure." If the Jews practice caring and kindness toward each other, then Hashem will do the same for the nation. And if they don't, He won't either. This is what Hashem meant when He said, "I will be what I will be." What I will be is an open question. It depends on you.

Hashem Saw and Hashem Knew
And it was in this long era that the king of Egypt died. The Jews sighed from the work and they cried out and their cries rose up to God from the work. God heard their groans and God remembered his Bris, his covenant, with Avraham, with Yitzchok and with Yaakov. God saw the Bnei Yisroel and God knew. (3:23-25)
"And God knew"? What does that mean? Rashi explains: נתן עליהם לב ולא העלים עיניו. Hashem focused on their plight and determined to address the issue.

This explains "and God knew," but what about "God saw"? What does that mean? The verse already stated that Hashem heard the cries of the nation and remembered His promise to their forefathers. What is added by saying that he "saw" the Jewish People?

We know from Moshe that going to "see" the Jews does not refer to mere observation, it means experiencing deep empathy. The word is surely being used in the same sense here. Hashem saw and felt the pain of the Jewish People. 

At the burning bush we learned that when Jews are charitable, Hashem responds in kind. Putting these facts together, we can say that Hashem "saw" the Jews and focused on their plight because Moshe "saw" the Jews and focused on their plight. This explains why Hashem's "seeing" the Jews appears after remembering the Bris with the Avos. Hashem's empathy is a new and unplanned component of the redemption, one not included in the original Bris but inspired and brought down by Moshe.

I called my father in Israel this morning to present this insight and hear his reaction. He was positive. When I asked where this extra divine empathy might have expressed itself, my father immediately came up with an excellent suggestion. He noted that Hashem did not send an angel to redeem the Jews from Egypt, but took them out בכבודו ובעצמו, "personally." As the Torah records and as the Haggadah emphasizes, at midnight of the Tenth Plague, Hashem Himself entered Egypt to save the Jews. This is certainly an expression of divine love, one which does not appear in Hashem's promise to the Avos.

I am delighted with my father's pshat, for the singularity of divine revelation is the perfect response to the singularity of human kindness. Moshe lowered himself from his upper class perch, rolled up his sleeves and got into the trenches with the oppressed Jews, simply because he loved them. When the time came for redemption, Hashem did the exact the same thing. "I will be what I will be." When Jews love each other, Hashem loves them too.

After hearing my father's insight in the Kollel on Thursday night, Mr. Ben Schuraytz pointed out another parallel between the acts of Moshe and the Tenth Plague. When Moshe went out to his brethren to see their burdens, he strikes down an Egyptian who was beating a Jew. This is an apt description of what Hashem does in the Tenth Plague: He strikes down the leadership responsible for the oppression of the Jewish People. It is noteworthy that the Torah used the word ויך, "and he smote," to describe Moshe's killing of the Egyptian, the very same word it uses for the plagues, מכות. The parallel is even more striking when we consider the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, that Moshe killed the Egyptian by uttering a Name of God. Moshe knew that invoking the Divine Presence would bring about the death of the Egyptian - and Hashem later uses the very same method in the Tenth Plague! Revelation itself is what kills the firstborn. In both empathy and in justice, Hashem mimics Moshe.

"If I am not for myself, then who is for me?" When a Jew loves, then Hashem loves, and Hashem directs His blessings to the nation through the Jew who inspired the divine love in the first place. As the Midrash taught, Moshe was selected to be our savior because he cared.

Monday, January 9, 2017

On the Trail of Blessings: What Did Yosef Want?

I had a short and sweet insight just this morning and Jeff Rohatiner encouraged me to share it on the blog. Torah has a life of its own and the little insight has grown into part 7.25 of the Trail Series

Yosef was unable to control his emotions... "I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?" (45:1,3)
Apparently, Yosef was not finished with his brothers. His plan was as yet incomplete, but he was unable to follow through. Compassion for his brothers forced him to reveal his identity prematurely.

What more did Yosef want to do? What was his plan? According to some (Hakesav V'HaKabala; Meshech Chochma) Yosef wanted his father Yaakov to come down to Egypt and bow before him in fulfillment of his second dream. Whatever Yosef's intentions were, it is clear that he miscalculated. He was too weak to bring his plan to fruition.

Strange. Why would Yosef make a plan that he could not carry out? The answer is that Yosef failed to account for something. When Yaakov sent the brothers back to Egypt, he gave them a blessing.
Yaakov their father said to them, ... "The Almighty God - אל שדי - should grant you compassion before that man." (43:14)
Yosef was strong, but he could not withstand the blessing of Yaakov. A divine wave of compassion forced Yosef to abandon his plan and reveal his identity. 

A Father's Blessing

On second thought, Yosef was a very wise man and he should have anticipated this. Yaakov's blessing was not an oversight. On the contrary, it was exactly what Yosef wanted. 

Hashem granted Avrohom the power to bless (12:2) and the power to curse (12:3). Yosef knew that his father Yaakov inherited these powers, and Yosef also knew that blessings and curses function well even when the recipient is unknown. Yitzchok unknowingly blessed Yaakov and Yaakov unknowingly cursed Rachel. Nonetheless, ignorance did not mitigate the effect of their words.

Yosef wanted a Beracha from his father, a Beracha that God should grant him compassion for his brothers. As a teenager, Yosef would speak Lashon HaRa about them, but as a mature adult, he would do no such thing. Unwilling to tell his father that the brothers sold him into slavery, the only way Yosef could get the Beracha he so desperately needed was to orchestrate a ruse. And it worked! Yaakov asks God to grant "that man" compassion and we watch as Yosef's heart melts

A Blessing and a Curse

Blessings and curses play yet another role in our story. When Yosef first set his eyes on Binyomin, he blesses him. אלוהים יחנך בני - "May God have pity on you, my son" (43:29). That's a surprising thing to say. Why would Binyomin need divine pity?

Yosef was planning ahead. He intended to frame his brothers and he correctly predicted their reaction. When accused of stealing Yosef's goblet, the brothers say, "He among your servants with whom it is found should die!" (44:9). The brothers unwittingly curse Binyomin and this is why Yosef preemptively blessed Binyomin with divine pity. 

Now we have a faceoff. It's the brother's curse against Yosef's blessing. Who wins? Yosef! Unlike Rachel who was killed by Yaakov's curse, Binyomin survives his brother's curse and does not die. What Yosef is demonstrating is that the family legacy, the power to bless and the power to curse, belongs not to the brothers, but to him! Yosef is the inheritor of the legacy of Avroham, Yitzchok and Yaakov! 

This is exactly what the brothers were afraid of. As they understood it, Yosef's dreams foretold that he would seize the family blessings and rule over them. That is why they hated him and now Yosef shows them that they were right. Yosef could seize power, but he doesn't. Instead, Yosef shares the destiny of the nation with all of his eleven brothers. 

In the end, the brothers were right about the dreams, but wrong about Yosef.

[Continue the series with part 7.5 by clicking here.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Making Your Dreams Come True

How Yosef Redeemed Himself, Revised the Future, and Reunified the House of Israel

Originally published in Nitzachon

[A word of warning: readers of the Trail Series will recognize the ideas presented in the introductory paragraphs. However, this essay develops things further, breaking new ground and containing many new insights. If you liked the Trail Series, you will love this piece, and if you like this piece, then you must read the Trail Series - it provides the backstory.]

Although it is the subject matter of nearly half of Sefer Bereishis, the story of Yosef and his brothers rarely receives the scrutiny it requires. Familiarity breeds neglect. All too often, we rely on the superficial reading we learned in elementary school and fail to relearn the formative events of our nation as adults. This article is a limited foray into the many mysteries of Yosef’s life: his dreams, his dream interpretations, and his complicated relationship with his family. Although some points are speculative, our intention is to stir debate and hopefully play a role in bringing these issues back where they belong: at the forefront of our consciousness.
The saga was born of hatred. “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers and they hated him” (37:4). Exacerbating the situation was the fact that Yosef spoke lashon hara. “He told his father every negative thing that he saw by his brothers the sons of Leah” (Rashi to 37:2). Under these conditions, it is reasonable for the brothers to be upset. However, the intensity of their feelings, the burning jealousy and the hatred, can only be understood in light of family history.
Avraham received extraordinary divine blessings – wealth, power, fame, a country and a dynasty – but not all of his children inherited it. Yishmael was found unworthy and expelled and Yitzchok took all. In the second generation, the same thing happened again. Yitzchok had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav, but Eisav was left empty handed and Yaakov was the sole inheritor. Now we are in the third generation and Yaakov’s sons can take nothing for granted. The big question is on everyone’s mind. Who will get the blessings?
Another worrisome precedent troubles the third generation. When Yitzchok selected his favorite son Eisav, Yaakov took action to prevent the blessings from falling into the wrong hands. He tricked his father and seized the blessings that were rightfully his. The brothers fear history will repeat itself. They suspect that Yaakov will follow in his father’s footsteps and give all the blessings to his favorite son Yosef. And when Yosef speaks lashon hara about them to Yaakov, they naturally suspect that Yosef is walking in his father’s footsteps, attempting to ensure the blessings don’t end up in the hands of an “evil” son.
Yet another piece of family history weighs on the mind of the brothers: that of Yosef’s mother Rachel. Our most influential matriarch, Rachel was a spiritual supergiant; a woman who exemplified selfless caring for others. However, blinded by rivalry, the sons of the other mothers may have had a skewed perspective. Rachel betrayed her fiancé, giving away the secret signs to her sister Leah. And in a bold act of righteous criminality, she stole her father’s treasured teraphim – and lied about it.[1] In short, both of Yosef’s parents are self-confident and forceful personalities, and when they believe something is right, they will do it, even if it comes at someone else’s expense. With genes like these, it is reasonable for the brothers to expect that Yosef will self-righteously seize their birthright. The brothers know that they are worthy and capable of furthering the family’s destiny, and that they need to protect their spiritual future from being usurped by Yosef. This is why they hate him.
And then Yosef has a dream.
The First Dream
Yosef tells his brothers what he saw in his dream.
“We are bundling bundles of grain in the field and my bundle suddenly stands up straight. Your bundles surround it and bow down to my bundle.” (37:7)  
Obviously, telling his brothers about his dream is not going to improve their relationship, but to understand their reaction we must once again turn to family history.
The brothers are undoubtedly struck by the appearance of grain in the dream. Why are the sons of Yaakov in a field harvesting grain? They are shepherds, not farmers! But then the brothers remembered the blessings. Many years earlier, when the time came for grandfather Yitzchok to bless his children, he began with these words: “Hashem will grant you from the dew of the sky and from the fat of the earth, much grain and wine…”
Grain is the first blessing and Yosef is claiming it for himself! The brothers’ suspicions are heightened, but it isn’t until the second dream that their fears are confirmed.
The Second Dream
Yosef has a second dream. He sees the sun, the moon and eleven stars in the sky bowing to him. He shares this dream with his family and the reaction is fierce.
His father yelled at him and said, “What is this dream that you have dreamt? Will we come – I, and your mother and your brothers – to bow down to you to the ground?!” (37:10)
Rashi explains Yaakov’s skepticism.
“Will we come – I, and your mother…? But your mother is already dead!”  He did not realize that it referred to Bilha who raised him like a mother.
Yaakov’s question is a good one, but why is he so upset? Once again, the answer is to be found in the blessings of Yitzchok. Thinking he was talking to Eisav, Yitzchok said, “…You will be master over your brothers and the sons of your mother will bow to you.”
Brother bowing to brother is a central feature of the blessings! As far as the brothers are concerned, the game is up: Yosef clearly sees himself as the sole inheritor and future master of the family. His father’s favorite and a son of both Yaakov and Rachel, nothing will stop Yosef from stealing what is rightfully theirs. Yaakov knows what his sons are thinking and he tries to downplay the dream’s significance, but the damage is already done.
To save themselves and to secure the legacy of Avraham, the brothers take preemptive action and sell Yosef into slavery. The tragedy here is that the brothers’ fears drive them to commit the very crimes they are trying to prevent: throwing a brother out of the family, plundering his share of divine blessings, and lying to a parent. All for the sake of Heaven and all in line with family precedents.
(There is one glitch that cannot escape notice. When Yitzchok spoke of bowing brothers, he referred explicitly to “the sons of your mother.” Yosef’s mother was Rachel, and Benyamin is his only full brother. All the other brothers were born of different mothers. Yosef’s vision of all eleven of his brothers bowing to him does not quite match up with the wording of Yitzchok’s blessing. Yosef and the brothers must have wondered about this.)
Yaakov is upset and the brothers are jealous because they understand what the dreams foretell. Yosef will rule. Yosef will inherit the rights and powers vested in the Abrahamic blessings. Right? Wrong.
It never happens. Yosef never does become king; that role is reserved for the tribe of Yehuda. Nor does Yosef become Kohen; that honor goes to Levi. While it is true that Yosef's two sons are elevated to the status of shevatim, it is difficult to see this as a fulfilment of the dreams or the blessings. Historically, the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe have no leadership role and no greater prominence than any other tribe.
So what became of Yosef's dreams? If the Torah records them, they must be significant. What do they mean?
Bowing Etiquette
When the brothers first arrive in Egypt and stand before Yosef, he accuses them of being spies. 
Yosef recognized his brothers and they did not recognize him. Yosef remembered the dreams he dreamt about them and he said, "You are spies! You have come to find the land's weakness." (42:8-9)
With this false accusation Yosef begins his long torment of the family, which includes the imprisonment of Shimon, months of anxiety for Yaakov, and the framing of Benyamin. What exactly is Yosef doing? Even if it were possible to suspect Yosef HaTzaddik of engaging in revenge, that untenable suggestion is refuted by Yosef's repeated emotional breakdowns. Revenge is sweet, not painful.
According to the Ramban, Yosef was busy making his dreams come true.
When Yosef saw his brothers bowing to him, he remembered all of the dreams he dreamt about them and he realized that neither of them was fulfilled with this [bowing] event. For he knew their interpretation. First, all his brothers would bow to him. This comes from the first dream, "we were bundling bundles of grain" (37:7), "we" means all of his eleven brothers. And the second time, in the second dream, the sun, moon and eleven stars bow to him. Since Yosef did not see Benyamin with them, he came up with this strategy of accusing them [of being spies] so that they would also bring his brother Benyamin to him in order to fulfill the first dream first.
This is why he didn't want to tell them [now] "I am Yosef your brother" ... as he does on the second time [they come to Egypt]. For [if he would reveal his identity now], his father would certainly come immediately [and the first dream would not be fulfilled independently]. Only after the first dream is fulfilled does he tell them to fulfill the second dream.
Absent this [explanation], Yosef would be committing a terrible crime to put his father through pain, making him bereft and in mourning for so many days over [the imprisonment of] Shimon and over [the disappearance of Yosef] himself. Even if he wanted to make his brothers suffer a little, how could he not have compassion on his father? But [the truth is that Yosef] did everything at the right time in order to make the dreams come true.   
As brilliant as it is, the Ramban's approach is difficult to accept. Are we to believe that the meaning of Yosef's dreams is the mechanical bowing of his brothers and his father, in a specific order? What is the significance of that? More disturbing is the idea that Yosef is making his father suffer in the pursuit of a personal agenda. Since when did making your dreams come true become a Mitzvah?  
The Dream Interpreter
The Talmud (Berachos 55b) teaches that dreams are flexible. Dreams have multiple valid possibilities and they materialize however they are interpreted.[2] This gives dream interpreters a remarkable degree of power and Yosef was dream interpreter par excellence.
The truth of this reality is indicated by Yosef's own words to the royal butler:
"For if you remember me, just as I have been good to you, you should please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this [prison] house!" (40:14).
To ask for the pardon of a man convicted of attempted rape, a foreigner and a slave no less, is no small request, and a newly freed prisoner in no position to ask for favors. Yosef knows he is asking a lot and he tells the butler to do it "just as I have been good to you." What did Yosef do for the butler? All Yosef did was explain his dream and in return for that Yosef asks the butler to request a pardon from the king?! The answer is that dreams follow their interpretation. Yosef didn't just explain a dream; he saved the butler's life, and now he rightly asks the butler to do the same for him.
Cognizant of the power of dream interpreters, my father, Rabbi Noam Gordon, explained our difficult Ramban.  
Of course the plain meaning of Yosef's dreams is that he will be king, but Yosef does not want to be king. He does not want to usurp his brothers’ role and the very idea has torn the family apart. As a dream interpreter, Yosef has the power to grab a dream by the horns and direct it as he wishes. Exercising this ability, Yosef decides to defuse his dreams by interpreting them literally. His brothers will merely bow down to him and that will be the end of it. Once that is accomplished, Yosef can reveal his identity and the brothers will have nothing to worry about. The dreams will be gone.
Now we understand why Yosef put his family through this ordeal. It was the only way to get rid of the dreams. As the Ramban wrote, had Yosef revealed his identity right away, Yaakov would have come straight down to Egypt together with Benyamin and the option of interpreting the dreams literally would have been closed.   
It is a marvelous explanation, but taking things one step further, we end up with a disturbing result. Aside from his own dreams, Yosef also interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and butler. If dreams follow their interpretation, then Yosef is responsible not only for saving the butler’s life, but also for the death of the baker. Surely Yosef could have come up with an alternative interpretation! Who gave Yosef the right to kill a man?  
Disturbing as it is, this question pales in comparison with the one posed by next episode in Yosef’s career. When the king of Egypt dreams of stalks eating stalks and cows eating cows, Yosef is taken out of the dungeon to explain it. Yosef insists that it is all God’s doing – “It is not me… God is showing Pharaoh what He is about to do” (41:16,28) – but we know that this is only half the story. Hashem empowered Yosef to make the call.  Yosef is brilliant and creative and he has many options at his disposal, yet he decides to create a horrific famine. Why did Yosef do that?!
A Dream and a Nightmare
Yosef had two dreams. In his first dream, his father is ominously absent. Understandably, Yosef never tells his father about this dream. In Yosef’s second dream, his father is present, powerfully represented by the sun. Another basic difference: In dream number one, Yosef's brothers appear to be his slaves, but in dream number two, they are untouchable and he looks up to them as stars.
Hashem is presenting Yosef with two options. Yosef will be given the opportunity to enslave his brothers, but for that to occur, their father cannot be present.  Alternatively, Yosef can bring his father into the picture as the patriarch of the family, but that requires putting his brothers on a pedestal. It will be for Yosef to choose which vision to bring to life. On a deeper level, Hashem is presenting Yosef with two different versions of himself. Yosef can follow in the footsteps of his father Yaakov and be a Tzaddik or he can be a Rasha like Uncle Eisav. The choice is his.
At the very beginning of our story, Yosef was living at home and speaking lashon hara about his brothers. Which brothers, exactly? According to the way the Ramban translates the pasuk, the Torah is clear:
Yosef was seventeen… despite his youth, he led the sons of Bilha and the sons of Zilpa, his father’s wives, and Yosef spoke negatively about them to his father.”
Why did Yosef speak negatively about Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher? The answer is in the verse. Yosef did not consider them to be his brothers. He did not even consider them to be his father’s sons. They are the “sons of his father's wives." Yosef’s attitude suggests resentment and it undoubtedly has its roots in the early death of his mother Rachel and his strained relationship with her “replacement,” his stepmother Bilha.
When Yaakov reacted to Yosef’s dream, he was correct to focus on the moon, for the moon holds the secret to saving the family. As Rashi explained, the moon tells us that Yosef’s mother is alive and well. Her name is Bilha.
Yosef must make peace with Yaakov’s second marriage to Bilha and he must view himself as Bilha’s son. In so doing, his relationship with Dan and Naftali will be fixed, for he will cease viewing them as “sons of his father’s wife.”
They will be full-fledged brothers, sons of his own father and mother, and he will appreciate their strengths, not publicize their weaknesses. From there Yosef can move on to recognizing all of Yaakov’s wives as matriarchs and accepting all of Yaakov’s sons as brothers. If Yosef does that, the family will be whole. Otherwise, we are left with the nightmare scenario of the first dream.
Years later, Yosef is masquerading as an Egyptian viceroy and his brothers are all assembled before him, helpless and at his mercy. Yaakov is far away in Israel, low on food and anxiously awaiting his sons’ return. The time has come for Yosef to make a choice.
Bursting into tears, he cries out, "I am Yosef!  Is my father still alive?" He then kisses each of his brothers and cries with them (45:3,15).
Yosef is telling his brothers that he rejects the first dream and its dark temptations of revenge and power. What he wants is family. Yosef has chosen dream number two and for that Yaakov must be present, and so Yosef asks, “Is my father still alive?”
Yosef has passed the test and the mystery of Yitzchok’s prophecy is resolved. “Your mother’s sons will bow to you.” By embracing his brothers, Yosef has indeed transformed the sons of his father’s wives into the sons of his own mother. 
Yosef and Avraham
Secrets are buried beneath the surface of dreams and extracting them requires the right tool. Diamonds are mined with explosives. Dreams are mined with questions.
In Yosef’s second dream, he sees the sun, the moon and eleven stars. There is a very obvious problem with this picture. Stars are invisible when the sun is in the sky!
Yosef was not the first man to see stars during the day. Great-grandfather Avraham saw them too, in the midst of the bris bein habesarim.
The words of Hashem came to Avraham in a vision… He brought him outside and He said, “Look now at the sky and count the stars, if you can count them.” And He said, “So will be your descendants.” …The sun began to set… (15:1,5,17)
If the sun first sets at the end of the prophecy, then it must have been in the sky when Avraham was stargazing. How is this possible?[3] After acknowledging that the plain meaning of the text is that Hashem literally brought Avraham outside of his tent to view the stars, Rashi quotes a Midrash that reads the verse allegorically. Hashem said to Avraham, “Breakout from your destiny! You saw in the stars that you would not have a son. Avram has no son, but Avraham does have a son.” Rashi then cites another Midrash. “[Hashem] took him outside of the universe and lifted him up above the stars…” From that perspective, the sun can certainly be seen together with all the other stars.
Stars represent the forces of nature. Divine providence flows through the zodiacal constellations (mazalos),[4] particularly through the constellation in which the sun is currently located (cf. Rosh Hashanah 11b). When Hashem told Avraham to look at the stars during the day, He was directing Avraham’s attention to that month’s mazal. Hashem then said, “So will be your descendants!” In other words, divine providence and blessings will flow into the world through the Jewish People just as they flow through the mazalos. Hashem essentially said the same thing to Avraham years earlier. “Through you will be blessed all the families of the earth” (Bereishis 12:3). This is why the Jewish People have no mazal; they are themselves a mazal.[5] 
Seeing stars by day also represents the extrasensory ability to recognize invisible forces at play in our daily lives. “So will be your descendants.” This is the quality of the Jew. He knows there is a God who runs the world. He knows there is more to life than what meets the eye.
Yosef’s dream matches Avraham’s vision. Like Avraham, Yosef was given the gift of seeing stars by day. It follows that Yosef is the spiritual successor of Avraham, heir to the bris bein habesarim. This may mean that Yosef exists outside of the laws of nature and is not bound by destiny. It may mean that Yosef will be a conduit of blessing and provide sustenance for the entire world. Or it may mean that Yosef will always be cognizant of Hashem’s presence and providence. We cannot be certain of the meaning of the dream, but we do know that all of these things turn out to be true in the life of Yosef.[6]
In the ancient world, pagan man worshiped the heavenly bodies. In Yosef’s dream the scene is reversed; the sun, the moon and the stars bow before man.  This is a fundamental teaching of the Torah: The center of creation is Man. The message of the mazalos bowing to Yosef is that he has the power and the mandate to transcend natural law and bend the world – and his dreams – to his will.[7]
The Seed of Yosef
The divine promise Avraham received under the stars is being channeled now through Yosef. That promise was encapsulated by the words, ko yihiyeh zarecha, “so will be your descendants.” Yosef’s zera will be as uncountable as the stars.
What if Yosef does not want this blessing? What if he wants to share it with his eleven brothers? Is there any way out?
Yosef has a plan. Usually translated as descendants, zaracha literally means “your seeds.” Aside from the zera of Avraham, there is one other thing in Sefer Bereishis which is described as uncountable: the surplus of seeds produced by Yosef. “Yosef amassed produce as numerous as the sand of the sea, until they ceased counting, for it was without number” (41:49).[8]  Yosef the Dream Interpreter has manipulated the meaning of zera!  Redirecting the blessing from children to food, Yosef simultaneously saves mankind from starvation and secures the legacy of Avraham for all of Yaakov’s sons.
Where did Yosef get the right to intervene in Hashem’s plans? Why didn’t Yosef submit to the plain meaning of the blessings and the dreams? Who gave Yosef a license to kill the royal baker and create a world-wide famine? The answer is his own dreams! Yosef’s dreams taught him that he has been vested with the responsibility and the power to unify the family of Yaakov and nothing in the universe is more important. Killing the baker and saving the butler cemented Yosef’s reputation as an effective dream interpreter and ultimately got him out of prison, and the famine is what put Yosef in power and brought his brothers down to Egypt. Man and Nature must bow and collude with Yosef to make his dreams come true, collateral damage notwithstanding.
The Eisav that Wasn’t
Sefer Bereishis ends with a heart-wrenching episode.
The brothers saw that their father died and they said, "Maybe Yosef hates us and will repay us for all the evil we did to him!" They sent a message to Yosef. “Before his death, your father instructed as follows, ‘Tell Yosef to please forgive now the crime of your brothers…’” Yosef cried as they spoke to him. His brothers then went and prostrated themselves before him and said, "We are your slaves."
Yosef said, "Do not be afraid. Am I in place of God? You thought evil of me; Hashem arranged it for the good in order to bring about what we have today: the sustenance of a great nation. Now, do not be afraid! I will support you and your children." He consoled them and spoke to their hearts. (50:15-22)
Yosef's response is strange. They "thought evil” of him?! They did evil to him! And why is Yosef committing to support his brothers? They came pleading for their lives, not asking for a handout. 
The answer is that the brothers are not afraid of revenge; they are afraid of Yosef’s dream. Their offer to become Yosef's slaves was not driven by guilt for enslaving him – Yosef forgave them for that already (cf. 45:5). Rather, unaware that the dreams had already been neutralized, the brothers are acting in accordance with their understanding of Yosef's first dream. As long as Yaakov was alive, the second dream was in play and the brothers were as safe as the stars in the sky. But now Yaakov is gone. The brothers "saw that their father had died.” The second dream had run its course and now the time has come for the first dream to materialize. And so the brothers prostrate themselves before Yosef and declare, "We are your slaves!"
What is Yosef's response? 
"You thought evil of me." You think I wish to strip you of your blessings? You accuse me of fantasizing of a dystopia where I am dictator and you are my slaves? You suspect me of being Eisav reincarnate? You think I am evil?
"Yes, I had that option and I rejected it. You forget that I do not only dream; I also interpret dreams. My first dream, the vision of your bundles bowing to mine – it is not what you think! I do not see enslavement, I see food distribution, and you are bowing in gratitude. Due to my intervention, Hashem turned my dream into an engine for good, to sustain a great nation. My dream does not mean that I shall enslave you; it means I will support you!"
In the end, the brothers were justified in their fears that Yosef would be a “thief” like his mother and a “trickster” like his father. Rachel had the right and the ability to claim the blessing of Yaakov all for herself, but she gave it up for her sister. Yosef also had the right and the ability to claim the family blessings for himself, but like his mother, he gave it up for his brothers. Yaakov had to pose as his evil twin and deceive his father in order to prevent the blessings from falling into the hands of his brother. Yosef also had to pose as his evil alter ego, in the form of a vicious viceroy, and deceive his father in order to prevent the blessings from falling into the hands of his twin, the other Yosef. Like his mother and like his father, Yosef is a holy thief. Yosef the Tzaddik stole the blessings from Yosef the Rasha.
This gives us a new understanding of Yosef’s emotional outburst. “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?” After all the years separated from family and living in the fleshpot of Egypt, Yosef is grappling with his own identity. Like Yaakov and Eisav in the womb of Rivka, the two Yosefs are engaged in a struggle for supremacy and the future of the Jewish People hangs in the balance. Yosef cries out in amazement, “I am Yosef! Does the Yaakov within me still live?!” With that question, Yosef provided the answer.       
As we read Sefer Bereishis, we watch Yosef grow from a self-centered child damaged by his mother’s death to a man who courageously exercises supernatural powers and lovingly embraces the brothers who tried to destroy him. Emasculating his dreams, Yosef sacrificed the promise of eternal royalty on the altar of family unity. Millennia later, will still bow before the man whose leadership, wisdom and selflessness healed the family and set the stage for the birth of the Chosen Nation.

[If you liked this piece, I recommend reading the Trail Series from the beginning for the full backstory. For a strikingly parallel interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams, read this post.]

[1] What the brothers thought of Rachel can be seen by their reaction when Benyamin is caught red-handed with Yosef’s goblet in his pack. The brothers jeer at him, “Thief, son of a thief! You are an embarrassment! You are truly the son of your mother. Your mother embarrassed our father in just the same way.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Miketz 10)
[2] The Gemara learns this from none other than Yosef himself, as the Royal Butler told Pharaoh, “Just as he interpreted [our dreams] for us, so it was” (41:13). Of course, it is not a free-for-all. Dreams will only materialize as interpreted if the interpreter is qualified and the interpretation is valid. According to Tosefos (ad loc. s.v. posrei chalomos) the mazal of a person at the time of his birth determines his ability to interpret dreams.
[3] Due to the force of this question, the Rashbam posits that despite the clear flow of the text, these events did not all occur at the same time (cf. Berachos 7b, Tosafos s.v. lo haya).
[4] “Every single blade of grass has a mazal in the firmament which hits it and says, ‘grow!’” (Bereishis Rabba 10). For more on mazalos, see Derech Hashem 2:7 and Nefesh HaChaim 3:10.
[5]Ein mazal l’yisroel” (Shabbos 156a). See, however, Rashi and Tosfos (ad loc.) who qualify this statement.
[6] Seeing stars by day is also a sign of tragedy (cf. Moed Koton 25b), another thing Yosef’s life did not lack.
[7] Every individual is obligated to say, “The world was created for me” (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5). “I rule over man. Who rules over Me? The Tzaddik, for I pass a decree and he annuls it” (Moed Koton 16b). “This is one of the conditions that Hashem set upon all the acts of creation: they are subjugated to the Torah and to those who labor [in Torah]. [The creation] must perform whatever they decree on it and their rule over it is akin to the rule of the Creator, may He be blessed. This is why you will find individual Tzaddikim who control the heavens, the earth, the stars, the sun and the moon” (Ohr HaChaim, Shemos 14:27, s.v. l’eisano). For a description of how the human neshama was designed to influence and control all the forces of the created universe, see Nefesh HaChaim 1:5-7. For the idea that a person immersed in Torah transcends the mazalos, see Nefesh HaChaim 4:18.
[8] The produce amassed by Yosef is called zera in 47:19, 47:23 and 47:24.