"The seven years of famine and seven years of plenty will occur simultaneously." (See Gen. 41:25-26)

The dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh led to the Jewish people's first exile in Egypt: Joseph's dreams led him to be sold as a slave in Egypt and Pharaoh's dreams led Joseph to be crowned as viceroy, ultimately leeding to the Egyptian exile, the precursor of all our exiles. (Likutei Torah [Ari-zal], Teitzei; See Bereishit Raba 16:4)

Our actions do not match our words and our words do not match our thoughts.

Exile was preceded by dreams because the reality of exile is analogous to that of a dream. Dreams consist of incoherent illusions where conflicting and contradictory elements can coexist. Similarly, our lives in exile are a confusing blend of seemingly hypocritical forms of behavior, combining spiritual transcendence and animalistic selfishness almost simultaneously. We pray to G‑d with absolute devotion, and yet, in a matter of minutes, we find ourselves acting in ways that contradict G‑d's directives. Our actions do not match our words and our words do not match our thoughts. Much like a dream, our lives are often an inconsistent and confusing combination of right and wrong. (See Torah Or 28c)

Living in this dreamlike existence can lead to frustration, even despair. We may think that we are not progressing, that we are being dishonest with ourselves. We may feel, considering all our faults, that our connection to G‑d is not real, and that our efforts to advance spiritually are superficial and ultimately futile.

The Torah therefore emphasizes the relation of dreams to the exile, to teach us that although our actions are inconsistent and may seem hypocritical at times, we should not become disheartened, since that is the nature of the "dream" we are living. We must try to live as consistently possible with our ideals and not give up because of our momentary lapses. This is because the effects of misdeeds are transient, lasting only until we repair their damage through repentance. The effects of our good deeds, in contrast, last forever.

Plenty and satiety allude to feeling close to G‑d during prayer.

Pharaoh's dream, particularly, conveyed the essence of exile, the coexistence of opposites: the simultaneous presence of plenty and famine. Plenty and satiety allude to feeling close to G‑d during prayer. Famine and scarcity allude to worry and anxiety over material concerns throughout the rest of the day, which belies a lack of trust and closeness to G‑d. During exile, these opposing sentiments can coexist.

Superficially, the reason for irrationality in dreams is that during sleep, the imagination is not controlled by the rational mind. Similarly, during exile, our "rational mind," our appreciation and understanding of G‑dliness, is weak.

On a deeper level, however, the reason for the irrationality of dreams and exile is because they are both rooted in transcendent, infinite Divinity, which defies logic and allows opposites to coexist. However, when this transcendence manifests itself in dreams and exile, its infinity is hidden beneath a cloak of confusion.

Inasmuch as Joseph's soul was rooted in G‑d's infinity, he was able to interpret dreams by unveiling the infinity hidden within them.

This is the deeper significance of Joseph's interpreting Pharaoh's dream: By getting past the external contradiction of Pharaoh's dream, Joseph gave the Jewish people the strength to go about the work of getting past the external contradiction of exile, to see its root in Divine infinity. This work will be complete in the messianic age, when the infinity of G‑dliness will be revealed.

There is an advantage in our spiritual work during the "dream" of exile.

Because of the lofty origin of exile, there is an advantage in our spiritual work during the "dream" of exile over our work during the days the Temple stood, when we were "awake." During the Temple era, the conscious capacities of our souls operated soundly. During exile, these capacities are asleep. Ironically, this provides us greater access to our subconscious capacities, which transcend limitations.

For example, in Temple times, a ritually impure person could not experience holiness. Today, however, we transcend such limitations and can experience holiness even in the midst of our impurity. (See Leviticus 16:16)

In "normal" times, we must follow "normal" conventions, such as ascending the spiritual ladder one step at a time. In exile, however, we can tap into lofty spiritual opportunities that by normal standards are outside our realm. For example, in previous generations, we could not study the inner dimension of Torah without having undergone numerous preparations. Today, however, we can—and therefore must—study the inner dimension of Torah regardless of our limited knowledge and spiritual level.


Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 85-87; and vol. 15, pp. 345-347; © 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org