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What the Dreams of Yaakov and Pharoah Can Teach Us About Cultivating Spirituality

Continuing an approach we followed last week of identifying the repetitive use of an unusual phrase in two different parts of the Torah and seeking an underlying message, I came across an observation of Rabbi Aharon of Karlin I (b. 1736, d. 1772, a student of the Maggid of Mezritch and founder of the Karlin-Stolin Chassidic dynasty) brought down in the sefer Parperaot L'Torah.

R' Karlin notes that following Yaakov's dream with the angels in which Hashem assures him that his descendants will inherit Eretz Yisroel and of Yaakov's own well-being during his travels outside Eretz Yisroel, the Torah states, "V'yikatz Yaakov mishenato v'yomer achayn yesh Hashem bemakom hazeh - Yaakov awoke from his slumber and said "There is G-d in this place..." (28:16).

Contrast this with the first dream of Pharoah in which he saw seven thin cows devour the seven fat cows. Given that the Egyptians worshipped cows, you'd think this dream would have made a tremendous impression on Pharoah - his "g-d" was eaten! Yet, the Torah records, "V'yikatz Pharoah...v'yishan v'yachalom shenit - Pharoah woke up...then fell asleep and dreamed again... (41:4-5). Yes, after this momentous dream, Pharoah fell asleep - a sleep so deep he had another dream!

Of course, the careful reader will notice that the same word "Vayikatz" is used to describe both Yaakov's and Pharoah's awakening from their dreams. What's the message?

R' Karlin suggests that the difference between Yaakov's reaction upon awakening (acknowledging the presence of Hashem), and Pharoah's reaction upon awakening from the first dream (falling back asleep) highlights the difference between the sensitivity of these two individuals to spirituality.

Yaakov possessed a heightened sense of spirituality and so immediately recognized the significance of his dream, and acknowledged Hashem's message.

Whereas Pharoah's spiritual sensitivity was so deadened that even a dream concerning the "death" of his deity was insufficient to elicit a reaction.

Interestingly, it is only after Pharoah's second dream involving the healthy and sick ears of grain, that Pharoah feels troubled upon awakening.

An dvar torah recently published on the OU website from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik explains that the sheaves in Yosef's dream recorded in Vayeshev represented a vision of economic power and prosperity (whereas the dream concerning the sun, moon and stars represented a vision of spiritual greatness).

This insight can explain why Pharoah also had two dreams. Shouldn't one have been enough to convey the message?

Seems one can answer that of Pharoah's two dreams, the first represented a vision of spiritual desolation (given that cows were the Egyptian deity), while the second represented a vision of material destruction (focused as it was on grain). When Pharoah did not react to the first dream because he was insensitive to spiritual matters, a second dream with "material" props was necessary.

Shedding further light on Pharoah's mindset is an observation regularly made in Strive for Truth by Rav Dessler who explains that when a person is preoccupied with material pursuits -- so that they are the dominant interest in his life -- his interest in spiritual matters is correspondinly minimal to non-existent. He doesn't get excited about spiritual "experiences" such as a nice dvar Torah or an inspiring story about chesed, and has no interest in spending his money on spiritual "acquisitions" such as seforim or mitzvos. He doesn't see G-d's hand in everyday events, or even in miraculous events. 

This was the case with Pharoah - he was exclusively focused on material acquisitions and personal power, and so was able to fall right back asleep even after a dream in which his deity was devoured. It was only when the second dream suggested a risk to his material standing that Pharoah became troubled. As opposed to Yaakov, who responded with intensity immediately after encountering Hashem in his dream.

Based on the foregoing, we can also perhaps better understand Yosef's comment to Pharoah at the beginning and at the end of his interpretation that the two dreams were one dream. Specifically, the individual preoccupied with material pursuits may not see Hashem's hand in the world, but, in fact, Hashem is behind all "material" successes and "natural" events. These are simply vehicles through which Hashem executes his plan. A "spiritual" person can sense this, while a person preoccupied with the "material" only sees the "external" causes (see prior post on the meaning of rainbows).

So how does one cultivate a strong spiritual sensitivity so as to better appreciate Hashem - and by extension - prioritize the spiritual in daily life? Immersion in Torah and mitzvos (see prior post where it was explained how mitzvah performance leads to spiritual elevation (same idea in Pirkei Avot - "mitzvah goreret mitzvah")). May we all be zocheh to constantly grow closer to the spiritual greatness of our Avos and avoid the spiritual insensitivity represented by Pharoah.

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