Vayeshev: Each His Own Dream

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger
Torah Portion: Vayeshev
“When they had been in custody for some time,  both of them — the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison — dreamed in the same night, each his own dream and each dream with its own meaning. . .  “(Bereshit/ Genesis 40:4-5)

Good afternoon! Our weekly Torah commentary production team has been on family leave for the past few weeks but we’re back and ready to learn again. This week’s portion, Vayeshev, begins the story of Yosef, who was Yaakov’s favorite son; this hardly endeared him to his brothers, who threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery in Egypt. There once again he gets thrown into a dark place, after being falsely accused by his master’s wife. In prison, he correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker and this begins his amazing ascent to power and prestige.

Let’s look for a moment at the verse above- it’s a bit clunky in both Hebrew and English. Both the cup-bearer and the baker dreamed a dream, so why does the verse need to say that “each dreamed his own dream?” Some commentators, including Rashi,  say that “each his own” along with “each dream with its own meaning” implies that each man dreamed his own dream but also the interpretation of the other’s dream- and that, in turn, is how they knew that Yosef was inspired in his own dream interpretation, because Yosef spoke what each man knew about the other.

I like this reading of the verse; it points toward a fundamental Jewish idea, that meaning is made in community. Each one of us is has our particular perspectives and limitations of knowledge and insight, but learning Torah and seeking truth together, we can create worlds of meaning greater than any one of us can on our own.

Yet perhaps the simple meaning of the verse is also important: the verse stresses that each man dreamed his own dream in order to show us that Yosef has matured from the days when he saw himself as the center of the universe. That’s exactly the symbolism Yosef himself used, for the dream of Yosef’s youth showed the stars, the sun and moon bowing down to him. Now, some time later, after some hard-won experiences which have taught Yosef humility and gratitude, he is able to understand that each person dreams their own dream- that is, each person is the center of a world, and we honor them by hearing well what they are truly saying. Yosef was able to discern the tragedy of one man’s life and the restoration of another’s because he heard them with humility and the recognition that truly knowing another is a gift from God.

Shabbat Shalom,


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