In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, we read about Joseph’s two dreams, both of which revolved around the same theme: that Joseph would one day rule over his brothers.
Next week, in Mikeitz, the Torah relates the two dreams of Pharaoh, which also shared a common message. There, however, the Torah tells us that the reason Pharaoh had two similar dreams was to emphasize that G-d was about to fulfil them imminently. No reason is given for the repetition of Joseph’s dreams; we must, therefore, conclude that although the two dreams shared a common theme, each one alluded to a different matter.
Let us now compare and contrast the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh in order to obtain a better understanding of them.
In Joseph’s first dream his brothers’ sheaves of grain were bowing down to his, alluding to the physical plane of existence – (“And behold, your sheaves placed themselves round about, and bowed down to my sheaf.”) His second dream involved “the sun and moon and the eleven stars,” alluding to celestial and heavenly matters. In other words, Joseph’s second dream represented an ascent from the material realm to the realm of the spiritual.
Both of Pharaoh’s dreams, however, referred to the physical plane. The first dream involved the animal kingdom (the seven cows), and the second dream pertained to the lower level of plants (the seven ears of corn). Neither of Pharaoh’s dreams had anything to do with higher spiritual matters at all.
This underscores the essential difference between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. The Jewish people, even while leading a physical existence, are intimately connected with both worlds – the physicality of the material world and the spirituality of the World to Come.
In truth, this is the task of every Jew: to properly utilize both realms and turn them into one. Not only must the Jew’s physical concerns not hinder his spiritual progress, his role is to harness the materiality of the world and transform it into spirituality, as Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Chabad Rebbe, once explained to a group of young children: “The Jew’s nature is that he eats in order to live; he needs to live in order to be a Jew and perform G-d’s mitzvot.” Because the Jew’s underlying intent in all his physical concerns is spiritual, the material plane itself is successfully transformed, as the Baal Shem Tov declared: “Wherever a Jew’s will is, that is where he is found.”