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Sifting Out the Truth

Mikeitz (Genesis 41:1-44:17 )

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

Joseph has the gift of dream interpretation. This is an usual talent, especially given that Jews are not into the occult, witchcraft, superstition, etc. So what allowed Joseph to tap into future events based on the disturbing dreams that others had?

But first a more basic question: What is sleep? Why do we sleep? The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom made some very strange things in this world. Why is it that human beings are designed to need to be unconscious for a good portion of the day?

We need to recharge our batteries. We need to forget about our worries, problems and challenges, so we can attack them the next day with a new attitude.

When we are asleep, what happens to our soul? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, a 16th century kabbalist, says that our soul partially leaves the body and has contact with the spiritual realm. This leaves our subconscious in a strange state. Images in our imagination combine with thoughts, concerns and desires. The most strange and wonderful fantasies can be concocted from this mishmash.

While we are dreaming, the soul comes back from its jaunt in the coffee house in heaven, with tidbits of information. This info may contain insights into life, contact with those who have passed away, or prophetic news of the future.

In short, a dream is a mixture of images in your subconscious that includes symbolism, desires, fears, imagination, and sometimes some deep spiritual content.

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A sieve or a colander will separate one thing from another. It can separate the pasta from the water, or debris from flour. In order to work properly, the object that sifts needs to be designed in a precise way. It has to have the exact size holes to keep one substance from the other. The holes have to be large enough to allow the flour, water, etc. to fall through, but small enough to keep the pasta, debris, etc. from falling through.

With a dream interpretation, it takes a special type of person to be able to sift out the information emanating from the spiritual realm, from the jumble of psychological imagery. That person has to have some type of mastery over his physical nature. He/she needs inner strength.

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Although there are many aspects of inner strength, Joseph's inner strength was best exemplified with the temptation of Potiphar's wife. Joseph was off in a foreign country where he alone had a philosophy of ethical monotheism. Potiphar's wife offered him wealth to sleep with her, and the threat of jail (possibly death) if he wouldn't. Joseph had every possible reason to do the transgression. No one from his home town would have known. Yet he didn't give in.

When faced with a very difficult moral challenge, Joseph was able to control himself. It's not only a personal accomplishment, but as an emissary of the Almighty, it reflects on God as well. Maimonides refers to this specifically as the greatest mitzvah possible - sanctification of the name of God, in Hebrew, "Kiddush Hashem."

It's easy for me not to eat at McDonalds. Although I might enjoy a meal there, I can certainly put something together from my own kitchen that would taste better, be even less expensive, and definitely be healthier. There is no serious temptation for me to eat non-kosher food when kosher is also a pleasure for the palate, and I get what I need from it. It's a mitzvah to eat kosher, but not necessarily a sanctification of God's name. It doesn't take a whole lot of inner strength.

For someone else, not eating at McDonald's might be that very point of challenge that produces a Kiddush Hashem. Any mitzvah that includes a strong temptation on a variety of levels, when you pass the challenge, includes another mitzvah of greater proportion - Kiddush Hashem. In other words, inner strength is associated with a stronger bonding with the Infinite.

That bond with the Infinite allows you to be a holy sieve, someone who can interpret dreams.

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People are often excited by the word "inheritance." But an inheritance usually includes the loss of a loved one, and unfortunately it seems more often than not to include arguments and hard feelings, sometimes even lawsuits over who gets what. Our Jewish spiritual inheritance, however, has none of the bad stuff, and can be even more beneficial than a monetary windfall.

Joseph conquered a desire that we all have, and that has ramifications throughout the ages. The Kabbalah says he bequeathed to us the ability to conquer it ourselves. Because he was able to control himself, we know that we can do it, too

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Spiritual Exercise:

This week, look for opportunities to express self-control. Find one test that you have and savor one small victory. Look inside yourself for that inheritance of inner strength.

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