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(Joseph's brothers) saw that it was he whom their father loved most of all his brothers, so they hated him… Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers… 'Behold, we were binding sheaves in the middle of the field… my sheaf arose and remained standing. Then your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf'. His brothers retorted: 'Are you going to reign over us? Are you going to be our ruler?' So they hated him even more… (37:4-8)
Abarbanel comments on the words Joseph chose to present the dream to his brothers. He highlights the words: 'My sheaf arose and remained standing', as meaning that his that the forces enabling him to rise to power would be independent of the other sheaves. The sheaf would rise - without asking permission from the other sheaves. Thus his dominance would, from the brothers' point of view, be quite independent of whether they wanted it or not. They would have no say in the matter.
And once the sheaf 'arose' it would 'remain standing'. The Sforno notes that it would not sit down in a hurry. Indeed, Joseph appears to have been viceroy in Egypt from when he was thirty to his death eighty years later - a very long time.
There are two ways a person may arise to a dominant position. It may be by merit - and the general acquiescence of the population. Had Joseph not 'got there' as Jacob's favorite, but used the social and administrative skills which he was to employ with so much initial success in Potiphar's household, it would have been a different matter. His charisma and efficiency might on their own accord have got him to the top.
Joseph's dream, however, suggested that he would not 'get there' on the value of service to his brothers and wider community, but by forces that the brothers had no means of influencing. He would achieve dominance the second way - as an outsider, as an interloper. The matter would be quite beyond their control. They would have no stake in their individual futures. The entire spiritual Patriarchal legacy so painstakingly built up by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would be out of their hands - independent of their own merits and positive qualities.
That could be the detail of the dream that Joseph should have been less precise in relating to his brothers. Though the Ramban places the dreams as divine communication on future conduct, Joseph should have been more discreet in revealing the information in such a way as it not would be understood out of context, and become a means of much strife.
A lesson for bearing in mind that 'there is a time to speak and a time to remain quiet' (Eccl. 3:7).
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Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
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