The Fleeting Dream of Money
It is written, “At the end of two full years, Pharaoh dreamed” (Genesis 41:1).
The Gemara speaks of Choni Hameagel, who for a long time was troubled over the verse, “A song of ascents. When the L-RD will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers” (Psalms 126:1). How could a person sleep and dream for so many years? At the same time, however, the Gemara states that Choni Hameagel slept for 70 years, and when he arose he recognized nothing from the past. He then completely understood the expression “we will be like dreamers” (Taanith 23a).
We see all kinds of people in our tiny world, for as the Sages have said: “The mind of each is different from that of the other, just as the face of each is different from that of the other” (Berachot 58a), which is the plain truth. Everyone has a different opinion about each subject, and reality shows that when Reuven says one thing, Shimon absolutely has to say something else. Thus everyone has a different way of expressing his views on the world and everything it contains. Yet we as Jews – believers and children of believers – must see the world with an open mind and thereby realize how to conduct ourselves materially, and above all spiritually.
If we observe everything that surrounds us, be it even for a moment, we will notice something odd: People have no spare time. They are always in a rush and constantly running in different directions, with little time on their hands and fearful that they will lack something. What’s the reason behind all this? In general it has to do with earning a living, with people on the run to feed their families. They hurry to arrive at work, and all their thoughts are geared toward money – how to earn more of it! A Torah giant from a previous generation was once walking in the street when he saw a Jew running somewhere. The Tzaddik asked him, “My dear Jew, where are you headed so quickly?” The man replied, “I’m going to [such and such a place] because I need some money.” The Tzaddik then smiled and said, “How do you know that you’re headed in a place where you’ll find money? Perhaps it will be found in the opposite direction, and you’re turning your back on it?” My friends, we find ourselves in a time that corresponds exactly to this story. Everyone is running around without stop, and without satisfaction either. “I have no time and I have no money” – at least that is what people tell themselves. However if we were to stop someone in the middle of an errand and ask for a small, trivial favor, he would immediately respond: “What will I get out of it? Will I be able to make some money from it?” Why such a reaction? Why is it so difficult to help others without being financially compensated? Pharaoh’s dream shows us just how true this is. Pharaoh had two dreams, which were really one and the same. In the first, he saw seven lean cows swallowing up seven fat cows. In the second, he saw seven withered and dried up ears of grain swallowing up seven healthy and lush ears of grain, yet no one could tell what had happened. This is the situation today: People swallow each other up alive; they are not inclined to help others when it comes to money. However if we were to think about it, we would understand that the world has a Director and that material things are ephemeral. After he arose, Pharaoh called Joseph and asked him to interpret his dreams. What did Joseph tell him? “The dream of Pharaoh is one. What G-d is about to do, He has told Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:25). Joseph continued his explanation by saying, “Seven years are coming of great plenty…and seven years of famine will arise after them, and all the years of plenty in the land of Egypt will be forgotten” (vv.29-30).
The essential thing, Joseph told Pharaoh, was to name leaders throughout the land of Egypt. They would be responsible to prepare, during the seven years of abundance, for the seven years of famine. In other words, if preparations are not made for the years of famine, all the good years will be forgotten.
This is a lesson for each of us in our daily lives. People spend all their time trying to save their silver and gold, keeping their wealth close to their heart, but not helping others in need. They must realize that they will not be protected indefinitely. A coin (money) is round – it rolls – and it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow. Today it may be with Reuven, but tomorrow it may be with Shimon.
Money has been entrusted to us by the Master of the world, but only on condition that we do something useful with it, namely to perform mitzvot and good deeds. If we act otherwise, the trustee will come and reclaim his goods, giving it to someone who may act in a better way.
We see this in Pharaoh’s dream. People may swallow each other up, yet we will not be able to tell that they consumed anything. Furthermore, they claim that they had only the best intentions in doing so. However Hashem knows and understand what is hidden in the heart, as well as what resides in the minds of each person. This is why everyone must prepare himself during the good years, in anticipation of the years that may not be so good. People must use their money to practice mitzvot, in order that they may have some left in more difficult times.
This is what the verse is saying: “At the end of two full years, Pharaoh dreamed.” When a person comes to the end of his days in this world, he is liable to see that everything was but a dream and that he really did nothing in life, nothing good with his money. We must therefore be very careful in this world in order to arrive intact and meritorious for the day of judgment in the World to Come.