Dream a Little Dream of Me
Professor Nahum Sarna points out that in the ancient world, it was common knowledge that dreams had a predictive nature, and were recognized as means of divine communication. In the dreams previously described in Genesis, the revelation is straightforward and the message is conveyed verbally. In the case of Joseph's dreams, however, the language of communication is symbolic. God does not figure explicitly in the content of the dreams; yet it is taken for granted that He is the source of the message. His brothers immediately understood this message and rejected it out of hand.
In the first dream Joseph describes:
There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf. (Genesis 37:7)
The brothers immediately reacted, supplying the obvious interpretation of the dream:
Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us? And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams. (37:8)
Similarly in the second round Joseph boasts:
'Look, I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.' And when he told it to his father and brothers, his father berated him. 'What,' he said to him, 'is this dream you have dreamed? Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?' So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind. (37:9-11)
These dreams, and later Pharaoh's, come in pairs. Rabbi David Zevi Hoffman explains the distinction between these two parallel dreams:
The two dreams hint to two different periods. In the first dream the brothers alone bow down to Joseph, which intimates the time when they came by themselves to Egypt and bowed down before the ruler of the land who was unknown to them (Gen. 43:26). This bow was directed toward the omnipotent master of the granaries, which is the interpretation of 'and you shall bow down to my sheave of grain'. In contrast, the second dream hints at a time when they already identified Joseph and had achieved reconciliation since Jacob's entire household, gave him recognition and acknowledged his greatness (Gen. 47:31, 50:18).
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