Parshas Miketz begins with a dream. Previously, Vayetze had begun with a dream and Vayeshev had begun and ended with dreams. But there's a substantive difference between the earlier dreams, those of Yaakov, and the later dreams involving Yosef. In Yaakov's dreams, G-d or an angel had explained their meaning or purpose to the patriarch, whereas Yosef' had to explain his own dreams and those of others.
As the embryonic Jewish people moved closer to the point of exile, the connection with G-d appeared to grow tenuous. Until Moshe, Yaakov would be the last Jew whom the Torah describes G-d speaking to. In the Egyptian exile, the Jews were no longer able to hear G-d. Yosef's dreams, filled with abstract symbols, but without words, were the beginning of that exile in more ways than one. The dreams would help bring on a physical exile, but they were also the symbols of a spiritual exile from the close connection of direct conversations and clear messages that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov had enjoyed with G-d.
When Yosef encounters Pharaoh's two stewards, themselves exiled, in prison, he responds to their dreams by saying, "Are not interpretations for G-d? Relate them to me."
It's a strange declaration, at once humble and yet full of a grand assertion. If G-d knows the meaning of dreams, how does it follow that Yosef can be so privileged as to know their meanings as well?
The brothers had mocked Yosef as the Baal HaHalomot or the Master of Dreams. His destiny and exile had seemingly begun with his own two dreams, in which he sees stalks of wheat and stars bowing. Yet there is a significant difference between these two dreams and the later dreams of Pharaoh and his stewards which may help explain both his title and why he is able to assert his ability to interpret them.
Yosef interprets Pharaoh's dreams and those of the stewards, but despite their obvious meaning, he never interprets his own dreams. It's the brothers and his father who see in them dreams of ambition and glory.
"Are not interpretations for G-d?" Instead of interpreting his own dreams, Yosef left them to G-d.
In the modern culture, we are often told to follow our dreams. When the brothers taunted Yosef as the Master of Dreams, they meant that his mastery was as vaporous as dreams and perhaps that he had been mastered by dreams that had no reality to them. But Yosef never allowed the dreams to master him. He did not interpret his own dreams or allow himself to be ruled by these visions of power and glory.
Yosef truly was the Master of Dreams because he did not follow his dreams. They followed him.
In prison, vastly distant from these visions of power and glory, Yosef did not follow his dreams, he followed his faith. He could interpret the dreams of others because he was not ruled by his own dreams.
When we interact with others, we are often driven by our own agendas. We want things from other people and our time with them is defined by what we want. Yosef never made requests or suggestions that would serve his own agendas until he had interpreted the dreams, of Pharaoh and his stewards.
"Are not interpretations for G-d?" Yosef interpreted the dreams as he believed G-d had intended. He did not allow his dreams to dominate the dreams of others. Instead of following his own dreams, he helped others understand their dreams. And that is what made him so powerful.
Sold into slavery, Yosef climbed the ladder in a society with no social mobility by helping others and refusing to take advantage of them even when, as with Potiphar's wife, he put himself at risk. He went from a lowly slave to the manager to an estate to the viceroy of Egypt by helping those around him. And he did so for the same reason that he interpreted their dreams, because that is what G-d would want.
That is what makes Yosef one of the most selfless figures in the Torah.
We think of the Baal HaHalomot as someone who is driven by dreams, but it is actually the man or woman who masters their dreams and lives a life of meaning and purpose. Yosef could not have survived as a slave if he had spent all his time pursuing fantasies. He saw dreams as forms of meaning, not from his subconscious, but from G-d, and followed a destiny laid out by G-d, by helping others.
Yosef's interpretation of dreams, like his waking labors, were based on paying close attention to other people and to the world around him, and creating a bridge between it and G-d. Cast off into exile, he brought light to wherever he was by seeing that everything around him was illuminated by G-d.