Vayeshev - weekly Torah portion

Dreams are fundamental to Joseph’s character. He dreams his dreams and also explains them, thereby annoying his brothers and father. He shares with his brother a dream of his where “we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” They respond bitterly, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” Joseph dreams that “the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Now it is his father’s turn to respond unkindly, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” Now, his “brothers were jealous of him” and his father, “his father kept the saying in mind.” Either way nothing good is going to develop from this sequence of events, or dreams.

We may think that it would have been better for him not to say anything about all of this. The prophet Zachariah noted, “For the teraphim speak iniquity, And the diviners see lying visions, And tell false dreams; They comfort in vain.” Which means that there is no truth in the dreams we have as they do not describe what happens in the physical world. The relationship between Joseph and his brothers has already been shuddered by other events, as Joseph was quick to inform about their deeds, and “brought back a bad report about them to their father”. As if that was not enough, the father, “Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.” Probably today the story would be of a father giving one of his children the latest and greatest smartphone and completely ignoring the other brothers who also toil and take care of their father’s business. The result of all of this is almost unavoidable, “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.”

Joseph was a gifted dream solver and was able to understand how such dreams translated into action in real life. He was therefore quite willing to share his interpretations without considering their impact on those who listened to him. Later we learn of the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt and he resolves for them their dreams, one who will live and the other who will die. In none of the cases Joseph provides solutions to these matters. He does not provide a positive angle to the story for his brothers, nor for his father. His father, unlike his brothers, does not become gallous, but keeps this behavior in mind. Joseph does not provide a potential solution for the baker to survive – maybe a way to save himself; he merely describes the facts of what is going to happen. However, the next time he will be confronted with the need to explain a dream he will act differently, it will happen “at the end of two full years” after the final events described in our portion of the Torah and we shall have to address them next week.

We all have dreams, we all dream dreams. At times we wish they become true, in others, certainly not. Sometimes the dreams we have are not the kind that come up at the thickest of the night, when our subconscious acts its soothing act on our weary bodies, brain and soul. These dreams can come about us in the middle of the day in the form of a good idea that we could try to act upon, move forward, and develop. Too often we quickly lose interest in that idea providing all kinds of excuses; it seems to difficult, overly complex, of not interest to others, and all kinds of other rational arguments that cut this idea into pieces. It stays there on the floor beside us, shattered to pieces. We never recall it until that day when someone else realizes the dream. It is then we sadly say, “I thought of it first”.

I would like to suggest to you that we begin dreaming and then get out there and make them happen. Daryl Messinger, the chair of the URJ, asked the attendees of the 2017 Biennial to answer the question of what it is that this great Reform Movement has given them. In another speech at that event I responded that the Movement, for me, is a place where we can make dreams come true. A dream that we dream and later realize it is exactly what we refer to when we speak of Tikkun Olam. We cannot leave others do it for us and we may not be passive about realizing our dreams. Rather, as we have so many dreams to make a reality, we must start moving, embarking on a path that extends all the way to the horizon, any way beyond, and keep moving.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 30 November 2018, 23 Kislev, 5779

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