Man has two powers in his brain – a Koach Hachochma and a Koach HaMedameh, the power of imagination. We need the latter to break through our limited horizons in order to understand deeper levels of reality and in order to not just self-actualize but to self-transcend.[1] Great leaders are visionaries – they use their Koach Hamedameh to the fullest to dream and pursue distant horizons. Someone without a vision is not a leader; even if he is a good manager. He will not transform; even if he is excellent at maintaining and running things well.

But there is a catch. 

The prototype dreamer and visionary is Yosef. Yosef pursues his dreams doggedly, to seeming success. It all seems to happen according to his vision. He does come to rule, his brothers and father do bow down to him, and his approach to serving G-d does seem to come about.

Yet Yosef combined his “dreaming” with a package of qualities which, on closer inspection tell us that the true dreamers are not what we think they are.  For one, their Koach HaMedameh is subservient to their Koach HaChochma and not the other way round.[2]

We think of dreamers as being somehow relaxed, opened-ended people, not abundant in gevurah. But those are the wrong kinds of dreamers. Yosef is in total control of his urges.[3] He is Yosef HaTzadik. The interpretation and pursuit of dreams hardly seems compatible with the tremendous control and discipline which righteousness seems to demand. Yet, this is just the stuff that Yosef used to climb up to the next level.  

For dreams and visions are dangerous things: Adam and Chava’s cheit was rooted in the desire of man to be something that is above himself.[4] Yosef’s brothers indeed thought of him as a בעל החלומות – i.e. that his desire to laud it over them led to his fanciful imaginations by day until at nights he also dreamt of such things. And there was an element of truth in that, for Yosef’s מלכות was only temporary and the permanent מלכות is through David. Yosef is [5] Moshiach, but only Moshiach ben Yosef. He is succeeded by Moshiach ben David, the true Messiah. Yosef is right again and again, but on the surface, his dreams don’t go deep enough. What is true at one level is mere fiction in a deeper, more profound world. What is true for now will be seen as mere dream-stuff in the Messianic era – היינו כחלמים.[6]  

The trouble with visionaries is that they have great passion, and Yosef was no exception. Yosef’s passion pulls him in all kinds of directions, including into the arms of Potifar’s wife.[7] In the end, however, he controls them and masters himself,[8] becoming the only person from Chumash who Chazal call HaTzadik.[9]

It was this control which allowed Yosef to become the true dreamer. Mastery of self leads to mastery of all around him as well. [10]

If this is the lesson of Yosef, ‘Follow your dreams,’ then it is easily understood. Man is called אדם, says Rav Tzadok HaCohen, because he is required to take a leap of imagination to be like His Maker – אדמה לעליון – a Maker he cannot see, touch or know in the same way as he knows the rest of the world around him. To be like – לדמות – requires us to use כח הדמיון, our power of imagination. We have to leap to horizons beyond the limits of our own narrow experiences.[11]

To get close to HaSh-m, especially in a time of darkness, we have to dream, we have to have a vision of things beyond ourselves. But we can just as easily fool ourselves, and build a whole structure of falsehood  and self-deception.[12]

Yosef tells us that not only must a leader have iron-clad gevurah but must be working out of a constant recognition of  where this is all coming from. A leader is more in danger than anyone else of getting his hishtadlus-bitachon balance wrong. He is in more danger than anyone else of attributing, almost thoughtlessly, his actions to his own כחי ועצם ידי.

Yosef doesn’t just work on this, he talks about it. He tells others. The interpreter of dreams is careful to stress to Pharaoh again and again:

מא טז: בלעדי אלוקים יענה את שלום פרעה [13]

מא כח: … אשר האלוקים עשה הראה את פרעה [14]

To the point where Pharaoh himself seems to get the message:

מא לח: הנמצא כזה איש אשר רוח אלוקים בו

מא לט: אחרי הודיע אלוקים אותך את כל זאת [15]

 Only once did Yosef slip up, by telling the Sar HaMashkim that he should mention him to the king. But knowing his calculations, we see how close the call was – a tiny blotch on an otherwise perfect record.[16] But it is important to note that the slip up was just here – in the hishtadlus-bitachon interface.   

 As mekarvim, we cannot be limited by the perspectives which end with our noses, but we must be aware that our vision may be utterly wrong, or just not deep enough or too grandiose. A vision – yes. Passionate pursuit of one’s dreams – essential. But we must check ourselves again and again – against our bitachon and against our ruthless self-honesty. Such is the mekarev, and such is his challenge.    

[1] רב צדוק הכהן, מחשבות חרוץ של רב צדוק הכהן , דף 10 ס’ ג סוף קטע המתחיל ודבר.

[2] שם אות ג

[3] רב צדוק הכהן, תקנת השבין, אות ו

[4] שם

[5] שם

[6] תהלים, קכו

[7] בראשית, לט יא: ויהי כהיום הזה ויבא הביתה לעשות מלאכתו וגו’; רש”י: רב ושמואל חד אמר מלאכתו ממש וחד אמר לעשות צרכיו עמה וגו’.

[8] רב צדוק הכהן, פרי צדיק לחנוכה – אות ב בבראשית עמ’ 139

[9] Rather than Yaakov who conquered his Yetzer Hara altogether.

[10] מהר”ל,  גבורות השם, פ”א.

[11] רב צדוק הכהן, מחשבות חרוץ מסביר שאדם מלשון אדמה לעליון (וכן בשל”ה הקודש) שזה שורש הכח ללכת בדרכיו אף על פי שהוא אינו נראה ומוחש וכו’ ורק על ידי כח הדמיון בשעבוד לכח החכמה אפשר להשיג אותו עד שהאדם בעצמו נקרא על שם הזה. אבל מאידך  זה ג”כ שורש של כל המחשבות של תוהו והבלים ודמיונות שבאדם לדמות עצמו שיהיה באיזה מעלה וענין שהוא למעלה ממנו ושאין ראוי לה כל אחד כפי השגתו.

[12] רב צדוק הכהן, מחשבות חרוץ ס’ א:  שורש של כל המחשבות של תוהו והבלים ודמיונות שבאדם לדמות עצמו שיהיה באיזה מעלה וענין שהוא למעלה ממנו ושאין ראוי לה; ס’ ה: ושורש עמלק … השתקעות בדמיונות; ס’ ד: כי האדם נברא בצלמנו כדמותינו אבל רק דרך דמיון כקוף, ומזה נמשך כח הדמיון באדם שנתפשט לחיצונים עד שנבנה ממנו קומת האשת זנונים.

[13] מא (טו) ויאמר פרעה אל יוסף חלום חלמתי ופתר אין אתו ואני שמעתי עליך לאמר תשמע חלום לפתר אתו: (טז) ויען יוסף את פרעה לאמר בלעדי אלקים יענה את שלום פרעה:

 [14] Yosef is saying: I am not just a better dream interpreter than your Chartumim. There is a fundamental reason why I can tell you what your dreams mean.

[15] הגות בפרשיות התורה מקץ ב.

[16] שם משמואל מקץ [שנת תרע”ה];  הנתיבות שלום מקץ מאמר אשרי הגבר אשר שם ד’ מבטחו.


Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.  

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