on Friday, 11 December 2009. Posted in Rabbi Marshall's Sermons

Parshat Miketz

Joseph the dreamer. At age 17, he is a spoiled child who speaks with no regard for those who might be hurt by his words--self-centered and pompous. He reports his dreams to his brothers: their sheaves bowing down to his. // The content of Joseph’s dreams, and the way he describes them to his brothers reflect an inflated self-worth and little compassion for his brothers’ feelings.

Then Joseph descends into darkness—thrown into a pit by his bros and then in the depths of the Egyptian subterranean prison. Out of these experiences, we witness a change in Joseph’s personality. Humbled by his experiences of powerlessness, he begins as a self-absorbed youth and emerges as a mature adult ready to act on behalf of the community. Thus, Joseph the dreamer becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams.

In this vein, Pharaoh summons him saying:

“I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning.”

Joseph hears Pharaoh’s dream: Pharaoh stands by Nile River, 7 large cows emerge followed by 7 thin cows. The thin ones eat up the fat ones. Then Pharaoh dreams of 7 ears of grain and 7 scorched ears that swallow the study ones.

”I have heard it said of you that for you to hear a dream is to tell its meaning”.

The Hebrew word for to ‘hear’ derives from the root Shema, meaning not only to hear but also comprehend or understand.

Joseph interprets these to mean that Egypt will have 7 years of plenty and 7 yrs. of famine.


Our hero’s success at interp dreams is Shema--his listening skills. Instead of imposing his own preconceptions to dictate his reasoning, Joseph seeks to comprehend the emotion behind Pharaoh’s words, the subtle distinctions between each of the objects in the dream and even the gestures Pharaoh makes while speaking.[1] His ability to “Shema” makes the difference in successfully interp Pharaoh’s dreams.


One of the keys to Joseph’s character transformation lies in an exchange between him and Pharaoh. Pharaoh asks him to hear the dream, and Joseph responds:

“Not I! God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”[2]

The text hints at two lessons that transform Joseph. The first lesson is to listen with compassion and understanding.[3]

When Joseph was younger, he was self-absorbed in the retelling of his own dreams. Now, Joseph listens first and then chooses his words carefully.

We too, face the challenge of truly hearing others. It is easy to tune others out, being preoccupied with our own thoughts or because we do not think others’ words are worthwhile. Sometimes we brush people off without a second thought, or we respond so quickly that our answers have little meaning.

Listening requires the desire to understand. When we can listen intently, we hear the nuances and connotations of the words. We can see what is written in his face or in her eyes. Listening allows us to take the time to genuinely hear before responding. //

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The second lesson that transforms Joseph is humility in the presence of God’s wisdom. When Pharaoh praises Joseph’s abilities, Joseph does not let the compliments go to his head. Instead, he is quick to attribute his interpretation to God’s wisdom. It is God who solves Pharaoh’s problems and assures Joseph’s success. The younger Joseph would have taken the kavod, the “honor,” on himself and been quick to congratulate himself. Now, Joseph progresses from the dungeon of his narcissistic youth to the heights of his future as a thoughtful adult. He understands that a higher power is the source of his life and wisdom. Our Torah does not boldly announce that Joseph is a changed person who has learned to listen to others and truly hear what they have to say. Rather, through Pharaoh’s words and Joseph’s response, we grasp Joseph’s connection to the divine.

What does it mean to trust in God’s wisdom? Many of us find it hard to relate to a personified God who possesses wisdom as humans do. BUT, what may resonate for us is God as the Mystery—that which is unknowable, beyond our limited human comprehension. How many times have we experienced an incredible coincidence, a feeling that there was something higher looking out for us, a sense of the order of the universe even though we couldn’t articulate how this order was manipulated. Perhaps that is God’s wisdom—sensitizing ourselves to this Mystery. Moving beyond our ego world and allowing ourselves to be guided and supported by a higher force. //

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Joseph teaches us the power of deep listening. The power of transforming a relationship by not saying anything at all. We learn that sometimes connecting to the divine means opening ourselves up to that which is unknowable. On this Shabbat, Shabbat Miketz, may we be given the opportunity to listen with sincerity and may we each find a spark of the Eternal in the mystery of life.

Ken y’hi ratzon, so may it be God’s will.

[1][1] Gen. Rabbah 89:60.

[2] (Genesis 41:15–16)

[3] Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber, http://urj.org//learning/torah/archives/genesis//?syspage=article&item_id=5147