In Marriage, Let the Lean Years Be Nourished by the Years of Plenty

Dreams are a precious commodity. For a young, newly married couple the whole future is mapped out in dreams.

Although the last four books of the Chumash do not record any dreams, the book of Bereishis is the book of dreams. After taking Sarah away from Avraham, Avimelech, king of Gerar, is warned by G-d in a dream (Bereishis 20:3). Yaakov, while dreaming of angels ascending and descending a ladder that stretches from heaven to earth, receives a promise from G-d that his children will inherit the Holy Land (28:12). Yosef dreams first of sheaves (37:5), then of stars (37:9) – dreams which cause discord between him and his brothers and lead to his sale into slavery. Then in Egypt, Yosef is thrown in jail where he meets two of Pharaoh’s officers, both of whom dream of their fates (40:5).

And in Parshas Mikeitz, Pharaoh himself dreams.

In his dream, the Egyptian monarch is standing at the bank of the Nile. The Torah records his location because of its symbolism: To this day the Nile is responsible for all of Egypt’s agriculture, and, in ancient times, the river was treated as a deity. The Egyptians did not just depend on the Nile, they worshipped it.

Pharaoh’s dream centered around cows and grain rising up out of the river and devouring each other. He could not understand the meaning behind the strange dreams and called upon his advisors to unravel their mystery. But none helped him. Not that they didn’t understand their meaning, our Sages explain. They were able to decipher what the dreams signified and what was in store for their country, but they were unwilling to reveal this information to their king. They recognized the bad news portended by the dreams and preferred to leave the unpleasant task of reporting it to Pharaoh in the hands of the prisoner-interpreter, Yosef.

The truths these dreams revealed shattered their perception of the Nile as a god, for if it was a god, why would it fail them? If, as they believed, their god existed to serve them, to irrigate their fields and provide food and water for them, why would it turn against them? Why would their god subject them to seven years of famine? To their way of thinking, it was all so incomprehensible. Their concept of a god who serves Egypt left no room for the possibility of a god who judges them.

The Egyptians’ attitude toward higher powers is alluded to in the parshah’s first verse, describing Pharaoh’s dream: “Behold, he is standing over the river” (Bereishis 41:1). The Torah is telling us more than Pharaoh’s physical location on the bank of the Nile; it describes his state of mind. He sees himself as master over the river — standing atop nature. It is nature and, by extension, the deities that run nature, which are subject to man’s whims, not vice versa.

But this is not the Jew’s view of the world. When Yaakov dreams of the ladder, he sees more than angels. “And behold, G-d stood above him” (28:13). Yaakov’s perspective is clear: G-d stands atop him and it is his job to serve G-d. Man is subject to G-d’s desires, man must accept the yoke of heaven, not the other way around (Bereishis Rabbah 89:4).

Pharaoh and all Egyptians felt the Nile was under their control, subject to their needs and desires. It was strange to them that the river would turn against them.

The content of Pharaoh’s dream is also instructive. The lean cows devoured the fat cows — this can be understood in two ways: Rashi understands that the years of famine would overwhelm the years of plenty to the point that the years of plenty would be forgotten. Yosef, therefore, advised Pharaoh to store enough grain to insure this would not happen.

Marriage can also be seen in this dichotomy. Marriage is a lifelong commitment and along life’s bumpy road there are good times and there are bad times. A couple can either allow the bad times to overwhelm the good times; when difficulties come along, they can forget the positive moments. Or they can take a more productive route and follow Yosef’s advice. Allow the times of famine to feed off the years of plenty. During troubled times, recall the good parts of life and be nourished from them.

Furthermore, a Jewish couple’s dreams are not just their own; they are Klal Yisrael’s dreams. “And Pharaoh dreamed.” The Midrash points out that in the Hebrew vernacular the verb always precedes the noun, except when the pasuk wants to place special emphasis on the noun, as it does here – “U’Pharaoh choleim.” Why the special emphasis on Pharaoh? Because, explains the Midrash, a king’s dream affects his entire nation. The pasuk spotlights Pharaoh; this is no ordinary Egyptian dreaming.

So too our Sages state, “Chassan domeh lemelech – A bridegroom is like a king” (Pirkei deRebbi Eliezer 16). The dreams of a newly married couple are not theirs alone; they belong to the whole nation.

Couples must have beautiful dreams of the future, both material and spiritual. But these dreams will only be realized through the recognition that “Hashem nitzav alav,” that G-d stands atop you. Our Jewish future, to which you add another important edifice, depends on your dreams.

The Gemara in Berachos (55b) states that all dreams follow their interpretation. We know your dreams will be noble and holy. By accepting the task of serving G-d and glorifying His Name, you will assume the greatest role a person, a couple, a family can play on this world — bringing G-dliness to our planet, as the ladder in Yaakov’s dream linked heaven and earth. In this way you will secure for yourselves blessings here and in the world to come.