The previous parashot are littered with dreams – after all, this is the story of Yosef and Parshas Miketz is no different. Much is written about Yosef the dreamer – his ability to interpret, his methods of doing so. However, Rashi highlights a fascinating phrase used in this parsha, not about Yosef, his dreams, or his interpretations, but rather about Pharaoh’s experience with his dreams. What is it that causes Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the ancient world, a god-king, to humble himself before a Jewish slave? Rashi comments on the words used to describe the impact the dreams had on Pharaoh: “וַתִּפָּ֣עֶם רוּח֔וֹ,” translating roughly to “his soul was agitated.” However, “וַתִּפָּ֣עֶם,” translates most accurately to “ringing” such as with a bell. Rashi says this speaks to the effect the dreams had on Pharaoh’s soul.1 It is this ringing that leads Pharaoh to drag up Yosef from an Egyptian pit, stand him before his court, hear his interpretation, and consequently realign Egypt’s entire social, political, and economic structure.
Several questions come to mind: How did Pharaoh know his dreams were significant? How could he have been so motivated by the idle wanderings of his sleeping mind? Additionally, why didn’t the interpretations given by the spiritual men of Egypt resonate with Pharaoh? Rashi tells us that these men did in fact interpret his dreams, but “their voice did not enter his [Pharaoh’s] ears and he did not have peace of mind with their interpretations.”2 Rav Gershenfeld teaches that there are two types of dreams. The first, as it is written in the Gemara, are standard dreams, meaningless, continuations of the constant chatter of thoughts and emotions running through our minds throughout the day.3 However, significant dreams come about as our Guf (the lowest elements of our soul corresponding to our bodies) turns off, our minds quiet, and we become sensitive and receptive to deeper truths from beyond our own conceptions. The Gemara also teaches that three elements hint as to whether a dream is significant: that the dream repeats itself, that it comes with a deep feeling of resonance, and that it does not source itself in ideas or thoughts from the day.3 Pharaoh knows his dreams are important because they ring for him and he knows when they’re being interpreted truthfully. They resonate inside him like a chiming bell.
The Gemara teaches that a baby is taught the entire Torah in the womb, but forgets it upon being born.4 The question is, why give a child such knowledge simply to remove it? The Zohar teaches that this is so that the child may experience that same resonance with Torah learning later in life. It is so that the child might experience that feeling of “this is what I was meant to do” when learning (and living) Torah later in life.5 We are all filled with a deep sense of connection and strength when we do what we were meant to do – that which aligns with what is true for us.
That bell is in each of us. We feel it in our bodies. We feel it in our souls. It is a form of knowledge so deep that it needs no validation from others, no rationalization to ourselves. Call it Intuition. Call it Deja Vu. It is the spark of Hashem in each of us lighting up when we come near Truth. It lights up in Pharaoh when Yosef interprets his dreams correctly. It lights up in each of us when we touch upon elements of our purpose. This resonance is there to lead us through our lives and we can only be truly happy, truly fulfilled, when we let it be our guide. Hashem gave each of us our own bell and He tweaked it so that it would chime exactly when it’s supposed to chime – uniquely for us all. He gave it to us so that we might serve a unique purpose in this world, so that we might come close to Him, and so that we might live the most authentic, fulfilled lives we can.
That is what it means to connect to our souls. In many ways that is the purpose of life: to let Hashem guide us by listening to our authentic and highest self, the spark of Him in us. Just as with dreams though, often we cannot hear this voice. Rather, our minds are filled with chatter, with distractions. Our dreams aren’t meaningful. When we receive that resonance we rationalize it away, forget about it, or remain too afraid to make real-life decisions based upon it. When we do this though, we give our lives over to our egos, to our fears, to what other people want from us, to what we think other people want from us. It is terrifying to listen to that resonance. It is terrifying to actually trust Hashem. It is by definition an uncharted path. But that is life. Each of us is meant to live a previously-before unlived life in this world. That means truly letting go of our conceptions of the outcome. Many of us live a life with so many definitions and expectations that we never truly are able to listen to that resonance. If we decide we need x amount of money and x amount of prestige and that we can’t possibly live unless we have job security, we are consigning ourselves to ignore Hashem and our souls when that resonance does not align itself with the preconceptions we have for our life. It is terrifying and in many ways, it never stops being terrifying. King David’s Tehillim (Psalms) drip with fear – yet he lived a courageous life. Courage is not the absence of fear. As C.S Lewis wrote in his masterpiece Screwtape Letters, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” Only in those places where fear exists can we have courage. Only in those places where fear exists can we live the life we were meant to live.
Our lives our own and no one else’s. During each morning’s prayers, we repeat the line that Hashem מַתִּיר אֲסוּרִים - frees the imprisoned. Most of us have never been physically imprisoned. We say this line rather to thank Hashem for freeing us from the prison of our own mind, from expectations, from “supposed-to-be’s,” from our own fears. To live such a life is the greatest freedom. Even in the challenges and pain, we feel alive. We feel whole. There is pain, but it is our pain. There are not many examples in the Tanakh of ways in which we should emulate Pharaoh. However, his response to a dream given to him by Hashem is one. May we all have the courage so that we too might trust when our souls begin to ring. May we all have the strength to humble ourselves before what we thought we should be and embrace who we’re meant to be.
A thank you to Rav Gershenfeld for his classes this week on the Parsha.
- Rashi: Bereishit: 41:8
- Rashi: Bereishit: 41:8
- Brachot 55b
- Nidda 30b
- Tikkunei Zohar