It took a long time, but Joseph’s dreams eventually came to pass.
How long did it take? Joseph became viceroy of Egypt at age thirty, and nine years later (after seven years of plenty and two years of famine), his brothers came to buy food. So Joseph’s dreams that his brothers would one day bow down before him and recognize his greatness were fulfilled when he was 39 years old. Since he had dreamt those dreams of future greatness at age 17, we see that his dreams took 22 years to come true!
“Rabbi Levy taught: One should wait as long as 22 years for a good dream to come true. This we learn from Joseph.” (Berachot 54a)
What is special about the number 22? In what way is it connected to the fulfillment of dreams?
Rav Kook noted that the Hebrew alphabet contains 22 letters. Through myriad combinations and permutations of these 22 letters, we are able to express all of our thoughts and ideas. If we were to lack even one letter, however, we would be unable to formulate certain words and ideas.
The ancient mystical work Sefer Yetzirah offers an intriguing insight into the functioning of the universe. Just as hundreds of thousands of words are formed from a small set of letters, so too, the vast array of forces that govern our world are in fact the result of a relatively small number of fundamental causes. If 22 letters are needed to express any idea, then 22 years are needed for the universe’s elemental forces to bring about any desired effect. Thus it is reasonable that we should allow a dream as long as 22 years to be realized.
Rabbi Levy is also teaching a second lesson: nothing is completely without value. One should not be hasty to disregard a dream. In every vision, there resides some element of truth, some grain of wisdom. It may take 22 years to be revealed, or perhaps its potential may never be realized in our world; but it always contains some kernel of truth.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 268)