Parashas Vayeishev

In the opening section of this week’s parashah, Yosef says to his brothers (Bereishis 37:6-7): “Hear, please, this dream that I have dreamt: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field, and – behold – my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and – behold – your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Regarding the prefatory phrase “Hear, please,” the Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 84:10): “He [Yosef] said, ‘Thus will the prophets deliver their rebukes – “Hear, please, what Hashem says (Michah 6:1).”’” Afterward, Yosef has another dream, similar to the first, and he relates this dream to his brothers as well. The Torah states that Yaakov castigated him for doing so. The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 84:11): “Said the Holy One Blessed Be He, ‘Thus you will castigate your prophets, as it is written (Yirmiyah 29:27, rhetorically), “Why, then, have you not castigated Yirmiyahu of Anasos?”’” The Maggid sets out to analyze these Midrashim, showing that the first Midrash explains Yosef’s motive in relating his dream to his brothers and the second reflects the reaction of his brothers.
The Maggid begins by discussing Yosef’s motive. Yosef’s conduct is puzzling. It seems that he was pridefully raising himself above his brothers and waiting for the time when he would be king over them. But far be it from us to say such a thing – is this the way a saintly person behaves?
The Maggid explains the matter in terms of a basic principle regarding how Hashem acts toward us. Hashem does not act the way people act. When a person wishes to harm someone else, he conceals his plan so that his intended victim will not hear about it and find a way to escape. But, during the age of prophecy, when Hashem saw a need for punishment, He would inform the people, via a message conveyed by a prophet, about the calamity looming on the horizon. His goal in doing so was to give the people a chance to arouse themselves and find a means to protect themselves. A teaching in Shabbos 88a brings out this idea. It is written (Tehillim 76:9): “From heaven You made judgment heard; the earth feared, and quieted.” Our Sages expound (Shabbos 88a): “First fear, and afterward quiet.” And thus it was the way that a prophet would come forward and exhort: “Hear, please, what Hashem says.” The exhortation is framed as a plea: The prophet is urging us to pay attention and recognize that by repenting from our evil ways we can prevent the calamity from coming upon us. Similarly, Yirmiyahu exhorts (verse 2:25), “Keep your foot from being unshod,” meaning that we should take steps to prevent misfortune. Yirmiyahu is telling us to accept discipline through hearing rebuke, so that we will not need to be disciplined through misfortune.
The converse is reflected in Yeshayah 40:21 (homiletically): “Behold you knew, if you did not hear.” If we are unstirred the prophecy of calamity and fail to hear the warning, by necessity we will come to know of the calamity by experiencing it coming upon us. The same idea is reflected in Yeshayah 6:10: “Indeed you hear, but you do not understand; indeed you see, but you do not know.” If we hear the prophecy of calamity but fail to absorb the message and accept the verbal chastisement, by necessity we will come to see the calamity unfold before us.
Now, the Gemara in Berachos 57b says that a dream is like a sixtieth of prophecy; it is a message from heaven. Thus, when Yosef dreamt his dream, he sought to understand what message it conveyed. Surely the saintly Yosef was not so haughty as to think that Hashem deemed him superior to his brothers and worthy to rule over them, with his brothers being his servants. Rather, he surmised that the purpose of the dream was for him to relate it to his brothers and strike fear into their hearts, so that they would reflect on their ways and mend them. Accordingly, immediately after his dream he went to his brothers and said: “Hear, please, the dream that I have dreamt.” He was acting like a prophet, pleading with his brothers to accept the discipline that the dream conveyed and take it to heart so that the dream would not come to actual fulfillment. It is along the lines of the Gemara’s saying in Berachos 55b: “The discomfiture generated by a bad dream suffices [to accomplish the purpose of the dream, eliminating the need for what it depicts to actually happen]. This is what the Midrash is saying when it draws the link between Yosef’s words and the words of a prophet, as reflected in the verse in Michah.  
We now have a question: Why did Yosef’s dream in fact come true? Why wasn’t the dream nullified? The answer is that Yosef’s brothers felt no fear upon hearing the dream. They did not see a need for them to make a moral accounting in order to nullify the dream. They assumed that Yosef’s elation and haughtiness (of which they suspected him) would lead to the dream’s nullification, along the lines of the parallel saying in the Gemara in Berachos 55b: “The joy generated by a good dream suffices.” But in actuality Yosef did not feel any joy at all, because he regarded his dream as a prophecy that was meant to prompt repentance, as we explained above. Thus, the dream was not followed by any nullifying event, not joy on Yosef’s part and not discomfiture on the part of his brothers. The reaction of the brothers was not remorse over their deeds but rather hatred over what they perceived as aggrandizement. It is precisely the same reaction that the Jewish People would later have to the rebukes of the prophets. And thus the Midrash sees in Yaakov’s castigation of Yosef a hint to the way the Jewish People would castigate their prophets in later times.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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