The Torah describes to us two dreams that Yosef Hatzaddik experienced and related to his brothers. The first was of how the sheaves of his brothers bowed down to his own. The second was of the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to Yosef.
His brothers responded to each of the dreams by strongly expressing their discontent about the message that was being transmitted. Yet there is a telling difference between their reactions. After the first dream, the Torah tells us that “they increased even more to hate him,” but there is no mention of jealousy. After the second, the Torah informs us: “So his brothers were jealous of him.”
The two dreams were very similar. Both were all about his siblings subjugating themselves to him. So why did the second dream bring about feelings of jealousy while the first didn’t?
The Brisker Rav, the Beis Halevi, zt”l, gives a powerful and very relevant explanation.
The first dream was about sheaves of wheat, items that represented material matters. The message of the dream was the brothers would have to come to Yosef for parnassah, a notion that upset them very much, but did not cause them feelings of jealousy.
When one individual has more material wealth than another, it only means that the external objects that are in his possession are more numerous than those of his friend, but as per the person himself, the rich and the poor are equal, for in essence they are both the same. “My wallet may be embarrassed before the wallet of my friend, but I am not embarrassed,” an individual of lesser wealth may say.
So too, in the first dream, the sheaves didn’t bow to Yosef, but rather to his sheaf, keeping matters between material objects.
The second dream, about the sun, moon and stars, symbolized the spiritual essence of a person. This seemed to symbolize that Yosef would reach greater spiritual heights than they would. This time it wasn’t about their stars bowing to his star, but their stars bowing down to Yosef himself. For unlike material matters, which are external, the spiritual is the actual essence of a person. When it comes to matters regarding yiras Hashem, it is appropriate to be “jealous”; therefore, the Shevatim envied Yosef.
The Meforshim expound at length on what were the “evil reports” that Yosef brought to his father about his brothers, and precisely why Yosef was mistaken about their true intentions and actions. While we have no inkling of the greatness of the saintly Shevatim, we can learn many practical lessons from the various teachings on this question.
It is told that Harav Yitzchak, the first Rebbe of Vorka, zy”a, and his close friend Harav Menachem Mendel, the first Kotzker Rebbe, zy”a, once discussed this topic.
The Vorka Rebbe explained that Yosef Hatzaddik saw that his brothers had what he considered to be a spiritual failing, so he went to get a brachah for them from the Tzaddik Hador — Yaakov Avinu.
The Kotzker Rebbe offered a different approach. In reality, Yosef Hatzaddik didn’t say anything at all to his father, he explained. It was only that since his own behavior was so exemplary — seemingly more so than his brothers’ — that it caused his brothers to look bad in the eyes of his father.
In that case, what could Yosef have done differently?
He could have hidden his actions more, the Kotzker Rebbe said.
Chazal (Niddah 30b) tell us that even if the entire world tells you that you are a tzaddik, you should consider yourself a rasha.
Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, asked: We see that Chazal take into account what people say, as the Gemara often states, “Hainu d’amri inshi — This is what people say.” So why should it be different when the whole world considers someone a tzaddik? Why shouldn’t the person thus referred to trust what people say?
Harav Mendlowitz answered: “How does the whole world know you are a tzaddik? Obviously you have not been fulfilling the dictum of vehatznei’a leches — walking humbly with Hashem. In that case, you should indeed look upon yourself as a rasha…”
For many of us, our spiritual struggles are primarily about doing what’s right in the first place, rather than ensuring that the good things we do are hidden from the eyes of others. But as we seek to grow in our avodas Hashem, awareness of this concept can help us remain focused on serving the Ribbono Shel Olam for His sake alone — and not because of what others may think or say.