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Joseph: Provocative Dreamer (Parashat Vayeshev)

Torah:

And Joseph dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, "Check it out, I have dreamed another dream. The sun, moon and eleven stars are bowing down to me." He told this to his fathers and brothers. His father scolded him and said, "What?! Are we, your brothers, your mother and I, now supposed to come and bow down to you?" So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. (Genesis 37:9-11)
 

Rashi’s Commentary:

  1. His father scolded him (Gen. 37:10) because he [Joseph] was launching hatred against himself.
     
  2. What?! Are we, your brothers, your mother and I, now supposed to come and bow down to you (Gen. 37:10)? Is not your mother [Rachel] long since dead?" Jacob did not, however, understand that the statement really alluded to Bilhah who had brought Joseph up as though she were his own mother. Our Rabbis inferred from here that there is no dream that doesn't contain absurd incidents.
     
  3. But his father kept the matter in mind (Gen. 37:11). He awaited and looked forward to the time when this would happen.
     

Discussion:

Joseph seems to be able to foretell the future by interpretation of his own dreams. Though he is an expert dream interpreter, his words irritate his brothers.
 

  1. Is it important to tell the truths you know, even when it may hurt others? Rashi seems to be grappling with this issue in 1 and 3 above. In 1, Rashi suggests that Jacob scolds Joseph for putting himself at risk by publicly interpreting the dream. In 3, however, Rashi argues that, although Jacob may have scolded Joseph, he believed in what Joseph said and looked forward to the prediction coming true.
     
  2. Do Rashis 1 and 3 above contradict each other? Given Rashi 3, was Jacob's scolding of Joseph half hearted?
     
  3. Is Joseph wise or immature in his role here?
     
  4. Toward the end of the long Joseph story (Genesis 45:5), Joseph tries to relieve his brothers of their guilt by saying that it was for good that he was sent down to Egypt so that he could reach a high position and manage the effects of the horrible famine. Write a different ending to the story, one in which Joseph and his brothers reconcile and Joseph never goes down to Egypt.
     
  5. Is there a way in which the dreams could be "true" without the brothers having to bow down to their younger brother?
     
  6. Note in Rashi 2 that he notices a problem with the text. Namely, the dream seems to suggest that Joseph's mother will bow down to him.
    But isn't Rachel dead, having died in childbirth with Benjamin? Rashi gleans two lessons from this:
    • The first is that Joseph was actually referring to Bilhah, his adoptive mother. This text could be used as a starter for discussion on adoptive parents. Here the Torah text doesn't use words like "stepmother," "foster mother" or other modifying phrases. It just says "mother". This could be used as a text which supports the fact that there is much more than biology in determining motherhood.
       
    • The second lesson is that dreams usually contain something that doesn't make sense. If this is true, does that lower the value of what we can learn from dreams? Are dreams less important if we know they contain impossible parts? How do we know which parts of a dream are impossible? Wouldn't it seem impossible that Joseph's brother and parents would bow down to them?
       
  7. Older students might want to compare and contrast a dream interpreter and a prophet. Prophets hope that their prophecies won't come true, that the people will change their ways so that disaster won't come about. Maybe Jonah's problem was that he aspired to be a dream interpreter and not a prophet, having gotten angry at God for not destroying Ninveh. Is Joseph behaving as a prophet in any way?
     
  8. What does all this suggest about what kind of attention we pay to our own dreams?

     
Type: Text Study