Friday, 18 Dec 2009

Written by Rabbi Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton

Chalamti u-foter ein otto (‘I had a dream but no one can interpret it’) says Pharaoh to Joseph (Gen 41:15).

How could it be that in all of Egypt no one was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams? Weren’t Egyptians accustomed to the practice of dream interpretations? Was not everyone in the region quite used to interpreting dreams? In our previous parashah, Va-Yeshev, we read how easily Joseph’s family interpreted Joseph’s own dreams as the ambitions of a spoiled youth. Moreover, did not Pharaoh himself have some inkling that the two dreams he dreamed were related, for does he not say ‘I had a dream’ even though he dreamed two dreams?

So what did Pharaoh really mean when he said ‘I had a dream but no one can interpret it’? Pharaoh was not really asking for an interpretation of the dream, for that was an easy task that almost anyone could do. The fact that the dream troubled the Pharaoh indicates that he had an innate understanding that his dreams heralded trouble, but he doesn’t want his suspicions simply confirmed by a dream interpreter. He wants to know what to do to pre-empt the trouble or avert it. After all, it is fairly easy to see trouble ahead; it is much more difficult to develop a plan, a vision that will change the course of history and that is what Pharaoh wanted to hear.

When Joseph, ‘the Dreamer’(ba’al ha-chalomot), was merely a youth he was full of dreams and ambition, but he lacked the empathy and understanding of the person who has once seen his own dreams shattered or who had to build his hopes and dreams on faith and hard work. Whilst he was merely a spoiled and conceited youth he was unable to turn his dreams into a vision. The hard experience of life turned the dreamer into a visionary. Now we no longer know Joseph as a dreamer, for he doesn’t need his dreams anymore as they are slowly unfolding into reality.

When there are challenges ahead we need dreamers as well as visionaries. We need those who are able to see the challenges that lurk in the future, but above all we need visionaries who are able to interpret those challenges as an opportunity for change.

Kathleen de Magtige-Middleton
December 2009

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.