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At the end of the previous parsha and the beginning of ours, the moniker given to Joseph by his brothers, “master of dreams,” acquires a new meaning: Once only a prophetic dreamer himself, Joseph becomes a highly proficient interpreter of other people’s dreams – specifically, those of the Egyptian empire’s rulers, Pharoah and two of his ministers.

Joseph’s interpreting the Egyptians’ dreams symbolizes one of Judaism’s deepest purposes: to penetrate the depths of the non-Jewish nations’ visions and ideas, identify their innermost spark of holiness and truth, and elevate it to its spiritual root. The nations have tremendous dreams and aspirations that they translate into art, literature, social manifestos, and the like; but being caught up inside them, they often don’t perceive the depth of their meaning. The dreamer can't interpret his or her own dream. It takes the perspective of an outsider – a Hebrew (ivri) from the other side (ever) of the cultural river – to interpret it for them.

Living with the Times

The first interesting thing about Joseph is that he doesn’t interpret his own dreams. Partly, this is because his dreams don’t require much explanation: that the brothers’ sheaves and the stars bow down to Joseph – that kind of speaks for itself... But it may also be that Joseph’s dreams are meant to remain unexplained. Just as the Torah that the people of Israel will receive has seventy faces, so too their dreams have many faces that should exist side by side.

This stands in opposition to the dreams of the Egyptians, which Joseph interprets unequivocally. From them it seems we are to derive an absolute and even practical message.

How does Joseph succeed in deciphering the Egyptians’ dreams? All his interpretations share one outstanding common denominator: adding the dimension of time. The three vine branches and fruit baskets in the ministers' dreams are three days, and the seven cows and ears of grain Pharoah's are seven years. The dreams themselves don’t mandate these interpretations. Indeed, according the Sages, Pharoah’s magicians suggested that the cows and the ears of grain represented not units of time, but entities existing simultaneously (seven kingdoms that Pharoah would conquer, or seven daughters that would be born to him).

What is the meaning of adding a dimension? When we intersect a one-dimensional line with another line we create a two-dimensional plane. When we intersect a two-dimensional plane with a line we create a three-dimensional space. In each instance, the new line emerges from outside the existing system, intersects with it and adds a dimension to it. Adding a dimension therefore means thinking outside the box, which then has the power to penetrate the box and illuminate it.

The metaphor of thinking outside a box – a three-dimensional object – is particularly fitting when we think about adding the dimension of time to space. Egypt is compared to a great womb in which the Jewish People were gestating until they were finally birthed at the splitting of the sea. Similarly, we can think of the Egyptians’ dream realm as a sort of womb, a mental space that the idea of time can penetrate and impregnate. Space without time is motionless, directionless. Time breathes life into space. It reorders the elements within it. From coexisting side by side they become events taking place one after the other. Time therefore adds action, motion, a trajectory leading up to a purpose.

This also explains why Joseph suggested a practical plan of action regarding Pharoah’s dreams (to appoint a wise and judicious man to gather food from the good years and save it for the bad), even though no one asked him to. As soon as we begin to interpret things in terms of time and process, our state of mind becomes one of practical thinking, problem-solving, and progress.

Time and the Soul

But now a new question arises: How did Joseph know which units of time were alluded to in each dream? How did he know to interpret the branches and baskets as days, and the cows and ears as years?

Here we discover an additional dimension that Joseph integrated into his interpretations: the spiritual dimension. Joseph realized that the dreams, while being Divine visions, were also integrated into the consciousness of the dreamer. The dreamers’ personalities and identities were essential for understanding their dreams. Since Pharoah’s ministers are relatively “small-minded,” i.e. given to short-term thinking, it made sense that they would think in terms of shorter time units such as days. Pharoah, on the other hand, is relatively “large-minded” – the future of the kingdom and its population rests on his shoulders – and would therefore be thinking in terms of longer time units such as years.

According to Sefer Yetzira, the ancient treatise of Kabbalah, reality is comprised of five dimensions. First there are the three spatial dimensions; within them flows the dimension of time; and within time resides the fifth and most important dimension – the dimension of soul or the psyche. According to this structure, time is an intermediate level between space and soul. While space is completely objective and soul is completely subjective, time brings them together: externally, it belongs to the physical universe, part of the “space-time continuum,” but internally, it’s intimately connected to human consciousness, that “travels” within time and experiences it moving from past to future. When Joseph injected the dimension of time into the Egyptians’ dreams, it served as a means to also enter their mental space.

In the 19th century, physics recognized time as a dimension. However, recognizing the spiritual dimension belongs currently only to mystics and fringe scientists – in short, dreamers. The world is waiting for a new Joseph to usher the day when we will all be “as dreamers,” recognizing that within everything beats a soul – our soul, the soul of the world, and the soul of the Creator who constantly breathes us into life.


Point to ponder for Chanukah: When the Greeks defiled the Temple, they failed to see a small cruse of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. Miraculously, the tiny cruse contained enough oil to light the menorah in the Temple for eight days. We taste this miraculous expansion of light every Chanukah when we light an additional candle each day of the holiday.

The cruse of oil symbolizes the dimensions of time and soul hidden within space. To discover them, we must abandon our external eyes and adopt internal ones, eyes that are attentive to processes occurring beneath the surface. The more we deepen our perspective and seek this level of reality, the more it will be revealed to us and add light to our world.

Happy Chanukah!