Joseph the Charmer

Thursday, 14 December, 2017 - 3:02 pm

668.jpgJoseph the Charmer

Woven into the story of Joseph are dreams and their interpretations. Joseph’s terrible hardships, beginning with being sold as a slave by his own brothers, were caused by his dreams that his brothers would bow to him. His rise to the height of power was also brought about by Joseph's skillful interpretation of dreams.

Indeed, in this week’s portion we read about Pharaoh summoning Joseph from prison, in order to interpret his dreams:

And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter for it, but I have heard it said of you [that] you understand a dream, to interpret it."[1]  

Dream interpretation turned out to be central to Joseph’s story, because, according to the Kabbalists, it represents Joseph's spiritual makeup and his unique divine mission.

Life is like a dream.

A dream is a state of mind where there is no orderly thinking, a place where opposing forces can co-exist. A consciousness where chaos reigns free. A dream is a place where one can move between opposite extremes very quickly, one moment the dreamer is in grave danger, and a moment later he is safe and sound.

Life is like a dream. 

This world we live in is a world of fragmentation. In a single day we experience opposite feelings, highs and lows, the pull to transcend and the opposing gravitational pull of the earth. We experience moments of meaning and mindfulness, as well as moments of distraction, pain and confusion.  

Joseph's experience was like a dream, one moment he was a slave in prison, a moment later he was the leader of Egypt.

If life is similar to a dream, then the key to success in life is to be a dream interpreter.    

The Hebrew word for “(dream) interpreter” is “Poter” (פתר), (which means to solve, as in solving a riddle). The same letters rearranged spell the word “Tofer” (תפר) which means to sew.

Joseph was able to solve the dreams as well as solve the challenges of life, by realizing that he must serve as the needle that would sew together all of the fragments and create unity. To Joseph every experience, both positive and negative, was part of the tapestry of a single story. The negative moments in life, the challenges one faces, are confusing until one sews them all together to achieve the big picture. The ability to solve and “interpret” the dream comes from infusing every moment and every experience with meaning. No matter where a person is, he is always able to ask: what can I accomplish this moment? Who can I help? How can I advance the cause of goodness and kindness?

Which is precisely what Joseph told Pharaoh. Pharaoh saw many details. In the first dream he saw seven fat cows and then seven skinny cows. In the second dream he saw seven healthy ears of grain and seven thin ears of grain. 

The first words that Joseph said to Pharaoh are the clue to how Joseph cracked the code of the dream and it represents Joseph's attitude towards life in general:

And Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dream is one; what God is doing He has told Pharaoh.[2]   

Both dreams are one dream. Both the good years and the bad years are part of one story.[3] Both give us the opportunity to bring G-dliness into the world and to work to help others.

This was Joseph’s key insight.

From Joseph we learn that every soul is like a sewing needle.[4] Like the needle's point, we possess the ability to penetrate the fabric and sew things together. We have the ability to penetrate the material and connect it to the divine, to pierce through the outer shell and discover that all of creation is but an expression of the one G-d. 

As Jacob was about to pass away he blessed each of his children. He turned to Joseph and said:  “Ben Porat Yoseph”, “A charming son is Joseph”. The word Jacob used for charm and beauty is “Porat” (פרת), the same letters as the letters of the word Interpreter, “Poter” (פתר), and the same letters as the word for sewing, “Tofer”.

When one learns to (פתר) interpret their life by (תפר) sewing all details of life into one story, then life, every part of life, becomes (פרת) beautiful and charming.[5]

[1] Genesis 41:15.

[2] Genesis 41:25.

[3] See Ben Ish Chai, Drasot Miletz.

[4] Sicha of 20 Av 5749.

[5] Adapted from Torah Or, Vayeshev, and Toras Chaim, Vayechi. 

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