Tag Archives: Dreams

What Do Your Dreams Mean?

Joseph's Dream, by Susan Govatos

Joseph’s Dream, by Susan Govatos

This week’s parasha is Miketz, which begins by describing Pharaoh’s strange dreams. None of Pharaoh’s wise men are able to give a satisfying interpretation, so Joseph is summoned to decipher the cryptic visions. In the previous parasha we read of Joseph’s own dreams, and his accurate analysis of the dreams of Pharaoh’s attendants. All of these people happen to be experiencing prophetic dreams.

The Talmud (Berakhot 57b) famously states that dreams are “one-sixtieth of prophecy”. The Arizal notes that dreams are one of five types of divine communication in lieu of true prophecy – which disappeared when the Second Temple was destroyed. The other four are Ruach HaKodesh, a “holy spirit”; messages from the souls of departed Tzadikim; communication with angels called Maggidim; and with Eliyahu HaNavi. Of the five types, only dreams are accessible to everyone, since the other four require a great deal of spiritual refinement to attain. Therefore, dreams are potentially of very great significance, and may hold important information.

joseph-dreamThe Talmud devotes several pages to dream analysis in the tractate Berakhot. It starts by stating that there are three things a person should always pray for: a good king, a good year, and a good dream. Nonetheless, we are then told that a bad dream is better than a good dream! Rabbi Yochanan teaches in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that “just as wheat cannot be without straw, so too there cannot be a dream without nonsense.” It is concluded – based on Joseph’s dreams – that no dream is ever totally fulfilled, but only parts of the dream are. We also learn from Joseph that a person should wait as long as 22 years for the fulfilment of a dream, since this is the amount of time that elapsed between Joseph’s dreams and when the dreams were finally realized.

Rabbi Yochanan tells us that three types of dreams are fulfilled: an early morning dream, a dream that a friend has about you, and a dream interpreted within the dream. Others add, based on this week’s parasha, a dream that one sees multiple times. Having said that, we are then given an opinion that dreams are simply a product of one’s own thoughts.

A couple of pages later, we are told that seeing a well, river, bird, or pot is a sign of peace. If one sees a reed, it is a sign of wisdom, and several reeds is a sign of understanding. Pumpkins, palm hearts, and waxes are all good signs. We are then given five interpretations with regards to seeing oxen doing various things in a dream.

mashiach-on-donkey-by-elhanan-ben-avraham

Mashiach on his donkey, by Elhanan ben Avraham

Seeing a donkey is a sign of salvation, since Mashiach is said to come on a donkey. A cat can be a positive sign, or a sign of a bad change coming. White grapes are always a good sign, while black grapes are only a good sign when in season. Similarly, a white horse is always a good sign, while a red horse is only good if walking gently, not galloping. If one sees Ishmael in their dream, it means their prayers will be answered. The Talmud clarifies that it must be Ishmael himself, and not any other Arab. If one sees Pinchas, a miracle is coming their way. If one sees an elephant, they will experience a wonder, and if many elephants, many wonders! Others say seeing elephants or monkeys is a bad sign.

If one sees a funeral eulogy, it is a sign of mercy. If one dreams that they are reciting Shema, they are worthy of the Shekhinah to rest upon them, while one dreaming of donning tefillin will find greatness. Dreaming of praying is a good sign, too. We are then presented with a number of sexual dreams (“if one dreams they have intercourse with…”) which, surprisingly, are all really good signs! These bring wisdom, understanding, Torah knowledge, and even a share in the World to Come!

We are then given a list of agricultural symbols. Among them, pomegranates are a sign for more business, while split pomegranates mean one will be a great Torah scholar. Olives are good for business, too, while an olive tree means many children. Barley or palm trees mean “one’s iniquities will come to an end.”

Michelangelo's Jeremiah

Michelangelo’s Jeremiah

Goats are a great sign, and one who sees an etrog is honoured by God. Geese bring wisdom and a coming promotion, while a rooster will bring a son, and many roosters bring many sons. We are later told that, generally, seeing animals is a good thing (except for apes). A snake means life, and if one is bitten by a snake it is even better. All birds are good except owls and bats, all vegetables except turnips, and all colours except blue. Seeing various kings, rabbis, and books of Tanakh is usually a sign of piety and wisdom – except if it is King Ahab or the prophet Jeremiah, the apostate Rabbi Elisha ben Avuyah, or the Books of Job and Lamentations, all of which bring punishment.

The Talmud gives a number of other details and signs. Ultimately, it affirms that “all dreams follow the mouth”, meaning that all dreams are fulfilled according to how they are interpreted. Rabbi Bana’ah once went to 24 different dream-interpreters in Jerusalem, and the dream was fulfilled according to each of the 24 interpretations! Thus, the Sages suggest that a person should relate their dreams to a good person they trust, who will surely give them a positive interpretation.

And if one does not remember their dreams:

…let him stand before the priests at the time when they spread out their hands [to bless the congregation] and say as follows: “Master of the Universe, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it is. Whether I have dreamt about myself or my companions have dreamt about me, or I have dreamt about others, if they are good dreams, confirm them and reinforce them like the dreams of Joseph, and if they require a remedy, heal them, as the waters of Marah were healed by Moses, our teacher, and as Miriam was healed of her leprosy and Hezekiah of his sickness, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. As You did turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so turn all my dreams into something good for me.”

Chag sameach!

Yosef and Yuya: Does Archaeological Evidence Prove the Biblical Narrative of Joseph?

In 1905, British Egyptologist James Quibell discovered a new tomb in the famed Valley of the Kings, where many of Egypt’s greatest mummified pharaohs were found. In this tomb were the bodies of two highly-preserved mummies, one male and one female: Yuya and Tjuyu. Scholars were astounded at the grand way in which Yuya was described: “the king’s lieutenant”, “master of the horse”, “superintendent of cattle”, and even, strangely, “father of the god”. Most amazingly, though, was the fact that Yuya was buried in the Valley of the Kings, despite never having been a pharaoh! Yuya was a unique and puzzling archaeological find. Who was he?

Father of the King

Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17) describes how Joseph rose to power in Egypt. It begins with Pharaoh’s bizarre string of nightmares, which none of his soothsayers were able to interpret. The royal cupbearer then informs Pharaoh that while he was in prison, a “Hebrew youth” was able to precisely interpret his dreams. Pharaoh summons the Hebrew youth – Joseph – who is indeed able to properly interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. The Sages tell us that Joseph’s interpretation was unique: it not only interpreted the dreams, but simultaneously offered the ideal solution for the problems that the dreams presented. Highly impressed, Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the prime minister of Egypt:

And Pharaoh said to his servants: “Can another man like this be found, in whom the spirit of God rests?” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has let you know all this, there is no one as understanding and wise as you. You shall be [head] over my house, and through your command all my people shall be nourished; only [with] the throne will I be greater than you… I have appointed you over the entire land of Egypt.” And Pharaoh removed his ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s hand, and he clothed him with garments of fine linen, and he placed the golden chain around his neck. And he had him ride in his secondary chariot, and they called out before him, “Avrekh!” appointing him over the entire land of Egypt. (Genesis 41:39-43)

Rashi explains that the term Avrekh is a contraction of av, “father”, and rikha, “king”, in other words, Joseph was called aba malka, “father of the king”, or “father of the pharaoh”.

We are then told how Joseph stockpiled food during the seven years of plenty, carefully mapping out a strategy to survive the coming years of famine. Not only did he plan for Egypt’s survival, but he ensured that Egypt would have enough to sell to all of the neighbouring nations and kingdoms that would also be affected by the great famine. Through this, he was able to make Egypt the wealthiest empire on the planet, turning what should have been seven years of hardship into seven years of immense prosperity.

No doubt, such a person would certainly be immortalized in Egypt’s history as one of its greatest leaders. In fact, the archaeological record appears to suggest that he may have been after all.

The Mystery of Yuya

Historians have uncovered a great deal of information about Yuya since the discovery of his tomb in 1905. He lived during the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt (1543-1292 BCE), and was an influential minister in the Pharaoh’s court. Strangely, his name is not of Egyptian origin, nor is his appearance. Many scholars believe he must have been a foreigner. He is described as being in charge of the horses and chariots, as well as the cattle. He is also titled “father of the god”, or more accurately, “father of the pharaoh” (since the pharaohs considered themselves gods). It isn’t difficult to see that Yuya is described in terms almost identical to the way that Joseph is described in the Torah.

Egyptian journalist and author Ahmed Osman published a controversial book in 1987 about Yuya’s identification with Joseph, titled Stranger in the Valley of the Kings. He pointed out how Yuya’s mummy has Semitic features, evidence of a beard worn in the Hebrew style, and is the only mummy found to have its hands under its chin as opposed to across its chest. Moreover, the description of “father of the god/pharaoh” parallels Joseph’s description as Avrekh. Could the two really be the same person?

The mummies of Yuya and Tjuyu

The mummies of Yuya and Tjuyu

The historical record suggests that Yuya was the minister of the Pharaoh Thutmose IV, who reigned around 1400 BCE. This is not too far from the lifetime of Joseph. More amazingly, archaeologists have found a stele (an inscribed stone) commissioned by Thutmose IV that describes one of his dreams! Like Joseph’s pharaoh in the Torah, Yuya’s pharaoh Thutmose also derived great significance from his dreams.

It is further interesting to point out that Yuya was found entombed with his wife Tjuyu, who is known to have come from a royal family with priestly origins. Similarly, the Torah states that Joseph married the daughter of an Egyptian priest (Genesis 41:45).

And what of Yuya being a mummy? The Torah states: “And Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years, and they embalmed him and placed him in a sarcophagus in Egypt.” (Genesis 50:26) Joseph, too, was mummified!

The "Dream Stele" of Pharaoh Thutmose IV

The “Dream Stele” of Pharaoh Thutmose IV

Having said all that, the Torah also states that Joseph’s tomb was later taken out during the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 13:19), and eventually brought to rest in Israel. This would make it very difficult for his mummy to be found in the Valley of the Kings. On top of this, historians have presented a number of other issues with the identification of Yuya with Joseph. So, perhaps Yuya is not Joseph after all.

Whatever the case may be, the amazing archaeological find of Yuya does give us proof that a foreigner could rise up through the highest ranks of Egyptian royalty, and even become “father to the pharaoh”. It gives us proof that the Torah’s account is quite accurate in its details, and in its terminology. And it certainly makes a compelling case for historical evidence of the Biblical narrative of Joseph.

The Origins of Monotheism

There are two more points that make the connection between Yuya and Joseph all the more fascinating. Historians see the root of the name “Yuya” as yw, which means “reed-leaf” in Ancient Egyptian. Meanwhile, Joseph’s name is יוסף, sharing a root with סוף, which also means “reeds” in Hebrew! The presence of “Ya”, a common appendage in Hebrew names to denote God’s name, makes it even more interesting.

Finally, the historical record shows that Yuya’s daughter married the pharaoh. They had a son, who became the pharaoh Akhenaten. Akhenaten was Yuya’s grandson. And he went down in history for doing one major thing for Egypt: destroying all of its idolatry to make the nation monotheistic. Unfortunately, his attempt to turn Egyptian society and religion monotheistic ultimately failed, and the kingdom reverted to its idolatry. But it wasn’t long after that the Jewish people left Egypt, beginning the spread of monotheism to the entire world.


The above is an excerpt from Garments of Light: 70 Illuminating Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion and Holidays. Click here to get the book!