Parshas Vayeishev: Dreams and Prophecies

This week’s Parsha, Vayeishev, begins and ends with the subject of dreams. Yosef, Yaakov’s favourite son, tells his brothers of the dreams he has, in which they bow to him symbolically. His interpretation of the two dreams causes jealousy and strife; eventually, he provokes so much envy among his brothers that they plan to kill him. Luckily, his eldest brother, Reuben, saves him, but nonetheless he is thrown into a pit and sold into slavery. He passes hands, and finds himself working for Pophitar, one of the Pharaoh’s ministers in Egypt. For a while, all is well, until he is accused of impropriety by Pophitar’s wife, and thrown into jail. There, his dream interpretation once again comes into play when he interprets the dreams of the baker and butler also imprisoned there; the butler will live, but the baker will die. This prophesy comes true, but unfortunately for Yosef, the butler forgets to put in a good word for him as previously promised. Later, though, this problem is rectified, when Yosef is remembered and summoned to interpret a dream which foretells the Egyptian famine.

Both tales illustrate the power of dream interpretation. The first interpretation leads to hatred, but the second leads to success, just as the first leads to Yosef’s slavery, and the second, his freedom. These vastly different outcomes point to the Talmudic viewpoint on dreams and their interpretation.

The Talmud compares an unexplained, uninterpreted dream to an unread letter. A letter in itself holds no power. Merely writing words does nothing, if the letter is not opened, read and acted upon. A dream is much the same. Usually, it requires interpretation to hold any power over our lives, and just as, upon finishing reading a letter, one can choose to act upon its content in any way, a dream’s interpretation, and, thus effect, is in the hands of the interpreter. Generally, it is believed that unless a prophecy is extremely bad, we can choose it’s course with our interpretation.

On its own, a dream is very unlikely to come true. If you don’t take the time to analyse, decipher and interpret a dream, it is no more than that- a dream. And while in the case of many bad dreams this is a relief, it can also mean unfulfilled potential. As such, it can be worth taking the time to examine our dreams. This doesn’t mean that we should base major decisions upon a dream we had one night, but it does mean that we should think about our dreams, particularly if they are recurrent or vivid. In contradictory statements, the Talmud states that dreams are both important, and merely the result of our thoughts during the day. This suggests that we should take all interpretations with a “pinch of salt”,

So how should we react to dreams, bad or good? On the whole, we should use them to focus on one thing which is common among Jews; self-improvement. If we have a bad dream about, for example, a car accident, we should think about our driving habits. Do we act suitably careful and considerate on the road? Are we prone to road rage? Is safety our priority? Through examining our daily lives, we can sometimes prevent horrific accidents (CV”S).  On a less corporeal level, dreams can remind us to be careful with our spirituality; to remember to daven properly, observe the mitzvos, or, most importantly of all, treat others with kindness. Through these remedies many a bad dream can be prevented from becoming true. Ultimately, Parshas Vayeishev, in conjunction with the Talmud, provides us with an important lesson; look within, at your dreams, and act upon them before it is too late.

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