Vayeshev- Dreams and Free Will

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him for his special relationship with Yaacov, and when he came to report on them, they took the opportunity to sell him into slavery in Egypt .


How much should they be blamed for contributing to the fulfilment of the promise G-d made to Avraham and Yitzchak that their descendants would go down to Egypt and be slaves there before going out and becoming a great nation? Yoseph’s dreams also could be interpreted as predicting his transport to Egypt and his rise to a position of power.


R’ Eli Munk wrote that the dreams of Yoseph, the two Egyptian officers, and Pharoh were highlighted in the Torah and demonstrate the role of non-rational factors in human existence. A person’s life can be dominated by the irrational, and dreams and their interpretation can influence the course of history as they have done here. In  a detailed discussion of the nature of dreams, R’Munk listed the three categories; those brought about by unhealthy influences, those which are the natural consequence of our psychological state, and thirdly, dreams of prophetic inspiration.


Rambam considered the nature of dreams in The Guide to the Perplexed. He wrote that what one learns in dreams is not a new product of one’s soul or a new idea from the outside, but is rather brought up from the imaginative faculty. The prophetic dream is unique in that the dreamer’s “attention must be directed to the knowledge of G-d. There must be an absence of the lower desires and appetites”.


R’ Munk commented that dreams were of an inferior character in comparison with direct revelation. He quoted from Rashba who pointed out that dream interpretation goes beyond reason and natural laws. The Zohar stated that the dream represents only a sixtieth part of divine revelation.


R’ Munk wrote that the story of Yoseph and his brothers was the first step in what was announced to Avraham. The people involved in this episode appeared as agents of Providence. They each remained responsible for their actions whilst  they were also acting from an historical perspective, showing that G-d’s plans are carried out amidst the dreams and grudges, the ambition and vindictiveness, and the comings and goings of the descendants of Avraham.  

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