Parshas VaYeshev – Yosef’s Dreams

By Avner Friedmann

Our Parshah states[1]: “Yosef dreamt a dream which he told his brothers…He said to them, “Listen please. In this dream which I dreamt we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold! – My sheaf rose and remained standing and your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Would you then reign over us? Would you then dominate us?” And they hated him even more, because of his dreams and because of his talk. He dreamt another dream, and related it to his brothers. And he said, “Look, I dreamt another dream. The sun, moon, and 11 stars were bowing down to me.” He related it to his father and his brothers. His father scolded him and said, “What is this dream you have dreamt! Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers and bow down to you to the ground?”  His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.”

Our holy books teach us several principles regarding dreams[2]:

1) Most dreams have no deep meaning and therefore one should not lend too much credence or importance to them. They often reflect the thoughts and wishful thinking that we think during the day, which we then dream about at night.

2) Some dreams contain a message and may even have a prophetic element. These generally appear toward the end of the night. They are revealed to a person to inspire him to do Teshuvah or to act upon the message for his own benefit or for the benefit of the soul of the deceased who appeared to him in the dream.

3) Dreams may contain some truth mixed with lies and confusion. As a general rule, the clarity of a dream is according to the spiritual level of the person dreaming.


4) A repetitive dream could be an indication of truth and may come true.

5) The outcome of true dreams depends on the interpretation of the person the dreamer tells his dream to. All dreams follow the interpretation of the interpreter. This can be clearly seen from the chief butler who said to Pharaoh[3], “And it came to pass, as he (Yosef) interpreted for us, so it was; I was restored to my post and the chief baker was hanged”. This being the case, a person needs to be careful who he tells his dreams to. He should only tell them to people who love him and will interpret them for good. Our sages tell us that an un-interpreted dream is like a sealed letter that has never been opened.

Now, let us apply these principles to our opening verses[4]. Why did Josef tell the dreams to his brothers? Yosef was a wise man[5]; he knew that the dreams needed interpretation. Yosef loved his brothers and believed they loved him too. He thought they would interpret his dreams favorably. However, his brothers’ harbored hatred and jealousy towards him. Upon hearing his first dream, they thought to themselves, “Ahh, it’s nothing but wishful thinking. He daydreams during the day and dreams about it at night.” They responded: “Would you then reign over us?” What they meant to say was, “No way. This will never happen!”  But then they immediately realized that they had just unintentionally interpreted the meaning of the dream. This is why the Torah tells us, “And they hated him even more.” Sure enough, twenty two years later, he did become king over them[6].

Yosef then told them his second dream. This time the brothers did not respond. They were afraid of falling into the “trap” of interpreting his dream again. But Josef still needed an interpretation, so he told it to his father in his brothers’ presence. He said it in their presence because it is important to the outcome of the dream for the person one dreams about to be present and acknowledge the dream. Yaakov heard the dream and had a dilemma. He knew the principle that dreams need interpretation, but he also knew the hatred and jealousy that the brothers harbored toward Yosef. What did Yaakov do? He interpreted the dream by responding with a question and a rebuke, nonetheless all the details of his interpretation were present, as the verse states, “His father scolded him and said to him, what is this dream that you dreamt? I and your mother and your brothers will bow down to you?” This seemed to satisfy the brothers. They thought, “Even father has a problem with Yosef’s dreams.”

Now, the Torah tells us that after the first dream they hated him. However, it tells us that after the second dream they were jealous of him. They hated him after the first dream because they thought that Yosef wished to rule over them. However, they were jealous of him after the second dream because they realized that a dream that repeats itself must have some truth to it. This was especially so, considering the fact that Yosef would not otherwise tell his father that he and his mother would bow down to him. Moreover, his dream was being interpreted by a person in the dream, his father.

The Torah concludes, “And his father kept the matter in mind”.  ואביו שמר את הדבר The word for “kept” in Hebrew is “Shamar”. The same letters which spell, “wrote it down” (רשם).  Yaakov wrote it down to see how the dream would play out. Furthermore, on the surface Yaakov gave the brothers the impression that the dream had no meaning. If we take the first three letters of the first three words of this phrase, we get the word- שוא, which means “meaningless”, or “nonsense”. However, in actuality Yaakov knew the truth. If we take the second letters of the same three words, we get- אמת, which means “Truth”. Yosef was telling the truth and Yaakov kept it to himself.

To conclude; most dreams are merely illusions. The best thing to do is to live a life of Torah and mitzvoth during the day and then we will have good dreams at night. If we do that, with HaShem’s help, the good dreams will become true. Sweet dreams!


[1]  37: 5-11.

[2] Zohar Veyeishev 183, Berachot 55.

[3] Mikeitz 41:13.

[4] Mishnat Hachalomot by Rabbi Boaz Shalom

[5] Pharaoh said (41:39):  “There is no one who is wiser and cleverer than you.”

[6] See parashat Mikeitz.

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