What was the immediate purpose of Yoseph being privy to the dreams of his fellow prisoners?
Why is one dream about plants and the other about processed foods?
Why was the wine steward reinstated and the baker slain?
Soon thereafter the Egyptian king’s wine steward and the baker offended their master, who was the king of Egypt.
— Bereishis 40:1
[Regarding] this one (the wine steward) a fly was found in his goblet, and [concerning] that one (the baker) a pebble was found in his bread. (Bereishis Rabbah 88:2)
— Rashi ibid
The wine steward told his dream to Yoseph, “in my dream” he said, “there was a grape vine right in front of me and in the vine there were three shoots; and as soon as it began budding, its blossoms flowered, and its clusters matured into ripe grapes … I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s chalice and placed the chalice into the palm of Pharaoh’s hand.”
— Bereishis 40:9-11
When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Yoseph: ‘I also saw myself in my dream and there were three baskets of fine white bread on my head; and in the topmost basket there were of all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh [to eat] but birds were eating from the basket on my head.
— Bereishis 40:16,17
Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “Woman is destined to give birth every day, for it is said, ‘the woman conceived and gave birth all together (Yirmiyahu 31:7).’” A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun (Koheles 1:9).” Rabban Gamaliel replied ”Come, and I will show you its simile in this world [currently under the sun]”. He went out and showed him a hen [hatching her daily egg]. On another occasion Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “Trees are destined to yield fruit every day, for it is said, ‘… and it shall bring forth branches, and bear fruit (Yechezkel 17:23).’ Just as the branches [exist] every day, so too new fruit will ripen every day.” A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun.” Rabban Gamaliel replied “Come, and I will show you its simile in this world”. He went out and showed him the caper bush. On another occasion Rabban Gamaliel sat and taught, “[The soil of] Eretz Yisrael is destined to bring forth pastries and silk robes, for it is said, ‘there shall be grain as large as a handbreadth in the land (Tehillim72:16).’” A particular disciple mocked him quoting, “there is no new thing under the sun.” Rabban Gamaliel replied “Come, and I will show you its simile in this world”. He went out and showed him morels and truffles; and for silk robes [he showed him] the bark of a young palm-shoot.
— Shabbos 30B
Rav Yehudah said in Rav’s name: Of all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in His world, He did not create a single thing lacking a purpose.
— Shabbos 77B
The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.
— Zohar Miketz 197A
Rav Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rav Yonasan: in his dreams a man is not shown anything other than the musings of his own heart.
— Brachos 55B
The musings of his own heart. i.e. what he ponders during the day/ waking hours [is what he dreams about while sleeping]
— Rashi ibid
On a superficial level the fall from grace of Pharaohs wine steward and the baker and the wine steward’s rehabilitation reads like just another instance of palace politics that have characterized the courts of kings from time immemorial. However Rav Leibeleh Eiger avers that, as the primary “audience” watching this drama unfold was Yoseph haTzaddik-the righteous; there is a profound lesson to be learned from it. As Rav taught everything has a purpose even if the purpose is not readily apparent or easily understood.
The episode of Rabban Gamiel and his skeptical student teaches us that some of G-ds creations serve a dual purpose; their utilitarian function in the temporal here-and-now world, as well as serving as symbols and allegories for matters spiritual or belonging to the eternal world-to-come. The sanctified-poetic sensibility and the discerning eye perceive some of the loftiest, transcendent matters in the most mundane of allegories.
Rav Leibeleh Eiger goes a step further and says that some creatures and historical events one and only purpose is to function as hints and allusions to the inner metaphysical realities that they allegorize. This is particularly true in the politics, intrigues, pomp and ceremony of royal courts as the operative principle is that “the kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is even truer here with Yoseph haTzaddik as the Divinely intended audience. It is part of a tzaddiks job description to cultivate a penetrating and discerning awareness to tunnel in and mine lessons from the pnimiyus-inner content; of all that meets his eyes.
The primary qualitative difference between the respective dreams of the baker and the wine steward is that the bakers dealt with a final product , a processed food; fine white bread, while the wine stewards dealt with the most primary source of the beverage; the grapevine itself. Both men found themselves incarcerated and in a dire predicament for having been deficient in their service to Pharaoh. The wine steward desired to do teshuvah-repentance; and tikun– repair; to restore his former relationship with his master and invested a lot of time reflecting on what went wrong and how he could set things right.
He was savvy enough to realize that papering over the issues in his relationship with Pharaoh and looking for a quick-fix would be a useless band-aid solution which was no solution at all. All sins against the monarch are capital offenses and — as we are not punished for our sins but by them — it follows that all sins against the monarch are malignancies. Malignant cancers cannot be cured by applying topical salves or balms or by a shallow chipping away of the exposed tip-of-the-iceberg; they must be eradicated root and branch. And so the wine steward understood that he must be mesaken-ameliorate; his sin at its very root.
Our sages revealed that the psychodynamic of dreams is that one only dreams at night about what he obsesses over by day. Dreams turn the prose of waking thoughts into the poetry of a mental landscape liberated from the constraints of rationality. As the wine steward was driven to transfigure and heal the root causes of his sin his dreams revealed the root sources of the wine rather than the finished product. Starting from the proverbial “drawing board” the dreamweaver led the wine steward through every step of the gestation, ripening and production; this time getting every move right. Ultimately the dream revealed the wine steward squeezing grapes, metaphors for the roots of the relationship, into the royal chalice of the Pharaoh, symbolic of the repaired relationship.
On the other hand the baker, far from reflecting on the root causes of his busted relationship and his incarceration, never came to grips with having sinned against the Pharaoh. He was in denial about his malfeasance. A pebble in the bread was an accident that was beyond his control. He was so superficial a servant of Pharaoh that the notion that the pebble may have been kneaded into the dough as a result of his own lack of vigilance never occurred to him. He felt wronged and framed and, in essence, continued thinking all along that there must be some terrible mistake that landed him in the dungeon; that his relationship with his master was intact and lacked nothing.
When the baker dreamed at night what he obsessed over by day he saw visions of finished products that lacked nothing and were ready to eat as is. Paradoxically, in his dream; his processed food became bird feed and was never used to nourish the Pharaoh and reestablish his relationship with his master.
Rav Leibeleh teaches that these dreams and their interpretations were revealed to Yoseph haTzaddik to impart the vital takeaway lesson for serving the King of kings-HaShem. The kingdom of the earth is analogous to the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as the servant of Pharaoh who was reflective and not in denial, accepted responsibility for the rupture in his relationship with the king and, eschewing band aid solutions, sought out the root causes of the problem — so too all true ovdei HaShem-servants and subjects of G-d; must flee from denial and superficiality and seek to transfigure and heal the root causes of their sins. When they do, they too, as the wine steward before them, will find themselves completely rehabilitated and back in their Masters good Graces.
~adapted from Imrei Emes Vayeishev 5527 Seudas Leil Shabbos D”H v’zehu
An installment in the series of adaptations
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
by Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood
To receive these adaptations via email please contact Rabbi Schwartz @ sfardclasses@gmail.