December 13, 2012
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #860, MiKeitz, Parsha Thought, dreams

If the exile is likened to a dream, and that G-d appears to us to be in a “sleep state,” then we are now witnessing the transition described in the Biblical verse, from: “Awaken, why do you sleep O G-d” to: “and G-d awakened from His sleep.”


In Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah records a turning point in the saga of Joseph and his brothers. In last week’s parsha, Joseph languishes in prison, falsely charged with attempting to violate his master Potiphar’s wife. Joseph shows concern for the downcast mood of the king’s butler and baker, his fellow inmates, and successfully interprets their dreams.

The parsha ends with Joseph asking the butler to mention his name to Pharaoh so that he could be released. However, the parsha ends: “And the butler did not remember Joseph and he forgot him.” Hence the preceding parsha ends on a rather pessimistic note. Joseph is left languishing in prison, his one hope for release dashed.

This week’s parsha begins on a positive note; a ray of hope. Pharaoh has a troubling dream and the butler finally mentions his experience with Joseph, who proved to be an able dream interpreter. Joseph is liberated, impresses Pharaoh with his dream interpretation prowess and particularly with his advice on how to forestall the impending disaster of seven years of famine. Pharaoh appoints Joseph the Viceroy of Egypt, he meets his brothers and, in the next parsha, reconciles with them. The entire family moves to Egypt for what turns out to be the beginning of the first galus/exile, the forerunner and paradigm of all subsequent periods of exile

When we survey the entire episode, it becomes clear that the linchpin of Joseph’s triumph and the subsequent exile begins with Pharaoh’s dream.


The Midrash, in its inimitable style, asks a question on the opening words of the Parsha which states: “And Pharaoh has a dream”: “Doesn’t everyone dream?” And the Midrash answers: “The dream of a king is a dream of the entire world.”

What is the meaning of the Midrash’s question, “doesn’t everyone dream?” Of course everyone dreams, but the story here is about Pharaoh’s specific dream. The Torah does not say that only Pharaoh dreamed. What else should the Torah have written?

The Midrash’s question appears to focus on the fact that the Torah employs the present tense in describing Pharaoh’s dream: “And Pharaoh has a dream” or, more precisely “And Pharaoh dreams,” rather than “and Pharaoh dreamed.” The implication here is that Pharaoh’s dreaming abilities were a unique phenomenon. The Midrash therefore asks: “Doesn’t everyone dream?” What was so unusual about Pharaoh’s dream?

The Midrash’s answer is that, indeed, a king’s dream is different because his dream affects the world. When a king dreams, it is a heavenly message that G-d chooses to transmit and channel to the entire world through the leaders of their respective countries.


One could find a deeper understanding of this Midrashic question and answer that is based on the Zohar’s commentary, that Pharaoh is also a metaphor for the Supreme King of Kings, A-mighty G-d.

As strange as it may sound, we find that even G-d is described in the Torah as being in a sleeping mode and dream state. Of course, we cannot attribute any physical properties to G-d. Nevertheless, the Torah employs the metaphor of sleep to describe the manner in which G-d is revealed or concealed. When G-d, the life force of the universe, is concealed, it is analogous to one who is asleep. Sleep is defined as a state of being where the soul is partially removed from the body, leaving the body with only a trace of the soul’s full capacity. It is a state where the soul does not fully express itself.

The result of sleeping is dreaming. When one’s soul is concealed he or she is out of touch with reality. A dream state is one in which reality is exchanged for fantasy and fantasy for reality. When our souls are actively involved in animating us, we know who, where and wherefore we are.

When it is said that G-d is “asleep” it means that G-d conceals His presence. As a result, the world loses its sense of reality.

Here the Torah states “Pharaoh dreams.” The world is experiencing a state of G-dly concealment, and the paradoxical state of galus/exile, in which opposites can co-exist, ensues. The mystical literature of Judaism explains that galus prompts the generation of the most sublime G-dly energies, but they manifest themselves in the opposite mode of exile. Redemption thus means that we are able to access these Divine energies.

This prompts the question: Doesn’t everyone dream? G-d is not the only one whose energy is obscured. Every person experiences occasions when his or her energy is stifled; when they are in a sleep and dream state. What is so unique about the King who is in a dream state?

The answer is that when the King is in a dream state the entire world is affected. When we experience our own state of sleep, it is localized and doesn’t suggest that the world is in a state of galus. The difference between G-d in a dream state and the individual is that the former affects everyone while the latter is limited to the individual.


The above distinction between two forms of exile—collective and individualistic—applies, specifically, to the present.

On the one hand, we are living in the most opportune time for the Jewish people. There was never a time in all of our national existence—from the days of King Solomon onward—when the Jewish people, as a nation, enjoyed as much freedom as they have today in virtually every country in the world. Even the “Evil Empire,” the former Soviet Union, has disappeared and been replaced with a regime that affords Jews unprecedented opportunities to live and thrive as Jews. It is something which people could only have imagined in their wildest dreams. Yet that became the reality.

In addition, we have witnessed incredible and unprecedented miracles of Biblical proportions in the last few decades, particularly in the Land of Israel.

Unprecedented numbers of Jews are discovering their roots and dedicating themselves to Torah study and Mitzvah observance.

Never before have so many thousands of Torah classes and lectures been made available to so many millions of Jews via the various medias that modern technology has given us.

If the exile is likened to a dream, and that G-d appears to us to be in a “sleep state,” then we are now witnessing the transition described in the Biblical verse, from: “Awaken, why do you sleep O G-d” to: “and G-d awakened from His sleep.”

In the Megilla, when King Achashverosh couldn’t sleep at night, our Sages explained metaphorically that it was a reference to G-d “awakening” as it were and breaking out of the dream state of galus and enabling the miracle of Purim.

We are indeed living in Messianic times, when unprecedented positive things are happening before our eyes. We are witnessing a waking up from the general dream state the world has been in since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. This is the dream of a King and conversely the awakening of a King; it affects the entire world.

But there is still another side of the story. There are still negative things. Evil has not been eradicated. Assimilation is rampant in the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism is still alive, and the land of Israel is still surrounded by enemies who pray for its destruction. But most troubling, perhaps, is that there are individuals who are so entrenched in the exile mentality that they “insist” on seeing only the dark side of things. These are lingering symptoms of exile that remind us that there are still sleepers in a dream state who resist the emerging energies of Redemption.

However, there is a fundamental difference between these two dream states:

The first is the dream of a King. It is a sign that there is a significant disconnect between G-d and the world. The world is then in a coma, out of which only extraordinary measures can succeed in rousing it.

When the G-dly energy that gives life to the world is no longer withdrawn, the world will awaken and begin to pulsate with a new life. Miracles and cataclysmic changes will become so common that one will hardly even notice them anymore. We have already tasted that phase of awakening from the dream of galus.

In this first stage of getting out of galus, G-d removes the veil that He spread over the world, which obscured the world’s vision and feeling of G-d’s presence and prompted all of the negative events that are a consequence of the Divine state of sleep and dreaming.

But that is only a first—although major—step. The next crucial step—the mission of our “liberated” generation—is to awaken ourselves as individuals to the new realities. In the historic words of the Rebbe we have to “open our eyes!”

The Rebbe stated that the Jewish people collectively— the Jewish people as one people throughout history—are essentially a healthy people. All the elements that are associated with the Messianic Age are already here. And while we each have flaws and galus-tainted moments, our general health is good. Our task now as individuals is to awaken from the bitter dream of galus by living a more vibrant and positive Jewish life. To paraphrase a well-known cliché: “It is not enough to get us out of galus; we must also get the galus out of us.”

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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