This week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), begins with Joseph sharing two dreams with his brothers and ends with Joseph interpreting dreams for both the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker. Isaac loved Joseph more than his other sons, for he was the son of his old age and therefore made him a coat of many colors (Genesis 37:3). Isaac’s favoring of Joseph led his other brothers to despise him. Sharing his two dreams with his brothers, one of which was his brother’s sheaves of wheat bowing down to him and the other where the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed down to him, led them to hate him even more. When an opportunity arose, the brothers plotted to bring about Joseph’s death. Only through the intervention of Ruben was Joseph’s life spared. However, he ended up being thrown into a pit and eventually sold to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. At the end of the parashah, Joseph, who was now in good graces with the Pharaoh, interpreted dreams for others. He correctly interpreted the dreams of both the cupbearer (who was restored to his post) and the chief baker (who was hanged). In return for correctly interpreting the dream of the cupbearer, Joseph asked him to speak kindly to Pharaoh on his behalf. The cupbearer did not, at this time, remember Joseph.
The evolution of Joseph, from the indiscriminate teller of his dreams to wise interpreter of the dreams of others, is curious. Why start and end the parashah with these two very different outcomes of a similar theme? A young Joseph, empowered by the favored son status, seems to have felt little need to build connections and relationships with his brothers. His behaviors implied he believed he was above others, and in his second dream, perhaps not just his 11 brothers but also his parents (the sun and the moon). Through his time in Egypt, alone with no family, he learned the importance of relationships and connections. And, as we see later, those relationships described here do pay off in the end.
For those of us in formal or informal leadership positions in our women’s groups, this parashah highlights the need to focus on building connections and relationships. Joseph’s first dream can be viewed as a traditional, hierarchical command and control leadership model. An effective women’s group relies on consensus and team building to effectively set and accomplish the goals of the membership. Joseph viewed the world as revolving around him and was not willing or able to consider the impacts of his words on others around him. Sharing his dreams as he did appears that he was telling his brothers, “I am the one who you will follow.”
Should he have kept his dreams to himself? Should he have discussed with his father first to better understand the implications of sharing his dreams with his brothers?
For all of us, having trusted advisors is important. The view of the world we have and our perspective is shaped by our lived experiences. We don’t consciously realize the blinders our experiences put on how we interpret and perceive events and interact with others. As individuals, we see the world through our lens. But when our women’s groups openly and without judgment allow members to share their perspectives and dreams, we can collectively accomplish so much more.
Sharon Zydney is a WRJ North America Board Member and a member of Temple Emanu-El Sisterhood in Westfield, NJ.