Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            Almost thirty years ago I went through basic training in the Israeli Army.  Even though it was a while ago I still think of my experiences in the military when we again read the Torah readings about Yosef and his brothers.  The major reason for this is that I went through my boot camp in Dotan.  That's where Yosef was flung into the pit and sold into slavery by his brothers, our ancestors.  There actually is a pit nearby that local folklore identifies as the genuine hole in the ground where Yosef was held captive.  It was neither impressive nor convincing.  It was, after all, just a pit.  But there's another reason why these readings remind me of my first time in the army.  We had the greatest closing banquet of any unit in the history of the IDF.  We were older than most recruits (I was thirty-seven.), and already in the midst of our careers.  One of our comrades was the manager of the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv and he catered our party.  It was awesome!  The formerly stern officers warmed to us and one brought out a guitar.  He said that he wanted us to know how he really felt about war; he sang John Lennon's Imagine.  We were instantly transformed into dreamers, imagining a world where armies were obsolete.  So, Dotan is, for me, the city where our dreams are challenged.  I went there dreaming of a strong Zionist state; I left there considering an even greater vision.

            These Torah readings are about dreams.  Even the Haftorah for Miketz , which is rarely read because the Chanukah Haftorah supplants it, is about the dream of Shlomo Hamelech right after he ascends to the throne of Israel.  According to Calvin Hall, a dream maven, 'the majority of our dreams tend to reflect concerns about daily life, money, school, work, family, friends, and health.'  People dream about things that are on their minds while they're awake.  Michelle Carr adds that dreams often, 'reflect an unresolved conflict or an overwhelming emotional concern in an individual's life.'  I think that we see this in the dreams we read about in our Torah readings. When Ya'akov leaves his father's home he dreams about a gateway to heaven.  However, before he leaves Lavan's house he dreams about sheep.  Yosef dreams about ruling his brothers.  What a surprise!  The wine steward dreams about grapes; the baker dreams about baked goods.  And, of course, the king of Egypt dreams about the uncertainties of the Egyptian economy.  But there is another element to these dreams, namely Divine direction.

            The dreams recorded in the Torah are a combination of the dreamers' life and God's instruction.  I'm not sure that's true of our dreams, but modern psychology is based to a certain degree on the assumption that there are important pieces of information embedded in our dreams which are worth our while to analyze and consider.

            There is another element in the dreams of Ya'akov, Pharaoh and Shlomo that I believe is very important.  This component is missing from the dreams of Yosef, the wine steward and the butler because the text doesn't describe them having the dream, just them relating it to others.  That critical piece is the Hebrew word vayikatz, which is translated as 'and he awoke', but really means 'and he stopped.'  This is not the normal word for awaking, which is ya'ir.  So, the question arises why this consistent use of an unusual term?  I think that the answer to our question is found in the Rashbam (Reb Shmuel ben Meir, 1086-1158), the grandson of Rashi.  He explains that people don't normally have this instant recognition that a vision we had in our sleep is a dream.  We often wake up thinking that what we experienced was real.  Often we regular mortals take a few minutes to realize that we're not back in high school unprepared for a major Science test.  Do you have that one too?  However, our three characters had dreams of remarkable clarity, and firm knowledge that these were discrete packets of information.

            Why was this true of our three dreamers?  That answer is also clear.  God sent these revelations for specific reasons.  Ya'akov and Shlomo were being informed that God was with them at the outset of their difficult missions.  Pharaoh, on the other hand, was so informed both for reasons of national security and for his role in the elevation of Yosef, that other dreamer.  Our dreams may not have the clarity of theirs, but may still have tremendous importance to us.  For good or bad, our dreams have many important elements for us.  They reflect realities within our psyche and our life.  And, just maybe, on occasion they contain a tiny element of prophecy as well.

            Like these Biblical characters, we too should try to find interpretations for our dreams.  They can be helpful and useful in our own lives, but also have impact on our interactions with our world.  Is the world or our more limited environment in consonance with the highest expectations of our dreams?   I think that this is a Chanuka question.  Matityahu and his sons had to ask themselves if they should just accept the world around them or rise to the occasion to change it.

            The Haftorah we will read this Shabbat for Chanuka also has a dream in it.  The prophet Zacharya is shown Yehoshua the Cohen Gadol wearing filthy garments, and is instructed to remove the soiled clothing and is told that this removes his sins.  This effort of the prophet and the cohen to remove sin will result in miracles for the Jewish nation.

            We all have dreams about our expectations for ourselves and the world around us. Both our parsha and Chanuka challenge us to fulfill the highest aspirations of our dreams.  We must demand of ourselves to dream and then work to actualize those visions.  Yes, you can be a dreamer, too.  That's not enough, but it's a good start.   Chanukah Sameach!