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Rabbinic Reflections - Parshat Miketz                      December 29, 2019 - 30 Kislev 5780

12/27/2019 01:35:25 PM

Dec27

Back in the 1970s the band “Supertramp” sang about dreamers:

“Dreamer, you know you are a dreamer /
 
Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no! /
I said dreamer, you're nothing but a dreamer /
 
Well can you put your hands in your head, oh no! /
 
I said "far out, what a day, a year, a life it is!" /
 
You know, well you know, you had it comin' to you /
 
Now, there's not a lot I can do /
 
Dreamer, you stupid little dreamer /
 
So now you put your head in your hands, oh no /
 
I said, "far out, what a day, a year, a life it is!" /
 
You know, well you know, you had it comin' to you /
 
Now, there's not a lot I can do /
 
I said "far out, what a day, a year, a life it is!"

While these lyrics may seem nonsensical, in reality they reveal the lyricist’s cynicism about placing much credence in dreams. Those who do “had it comin' to you” when the dreams failed to materialize. Those who rely on dreams, he says are nothing but “stupid little dreamer[s].”

Judaism, too, has much to say about dreams. Indeed, in our portion this week, much is made of Joseph “The Dreamer”. On one hand, his skills in interpreting dreams almost cost him his life at the hands of his own brothers. On the other hand, the interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams save him from prison. From this account one might surmise that dreams play a significant role in Judaism in general and Biblical literature in particular. Not so!

Nahum Sarna, author of Understanding Genesis, notes, “Despite the fact that Israel shared with its pagan neighbors a belief in the reality of dreams as a medium of divine communication, it never developed, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia, a class of professional interpreters or a dream literature. In the entire Bible, only two Israelites engage in the interpretation of dreams-Joseph and Daniel-and significantly enough, each serves a pagan monarch in precisely the lands in which [divination by means of dreams] flourished.” 

In the case of Joseph, his dreams of superiority separated him from his family and assimilated him into the pagan world of Egypt.  Had there not been a famine in Canaan, requiring his brothers to come down to Egypt for food, Joseph might never have reconciled with them.  His dreams would have permanently driven him from his family, his people, and eventually his God. So much for dreams!

The ancient Rabbis went one step further when they suggested:Do not rely on a miracle!” We don’t sit and wait for a “miraculous” event; we make it happen. It is not our dreams that determine the future; it is our actions. Rabbi Howard Siegel (20th century, USA) elaborates on this notion: God has made humankind a partner in the completion of creation. The realization of God’s “Kingdom on Earth”, or better stated, making this earth worthy of God, is dependent on us to “make” miracles and “fashion” dreams.

Rabbi Siegel concludes: The miracle of Hanukkah, which we celebrate this week, is not really that a single vial of oil was sufficient to keep the ancient Temple’s menorah lit for eight days, but that amidst pressures to assimilate and acculturate a small band of Jews (the Maccabees) still cared enough to fight for their identity. Professor Ismar Schoresh notes, “Dreams and miracles lie in the dustpan of Jewish history.” Even Joseph realized this fact before it was too late.

Shabbat Shalom

Wed, January 22 2020 25 Tevet 5780