This week’s parasha continues to present a glimpse of the evolution of spiritual consciousness and prophecy through the dream state. In the book of Numbers (12:6) the Torah tells us that all prophecies except those of Moses will be revealed in dreams. (The dreams of Abimelech and Lavan we read about a few weeks ago were merely explicit warnings, a manifestation of the Divine protection promised to our foreparents).
This week’s first reading details two prophetic dreams of Joseph (Yosef), the first regarding sheaves of wheat, and the second: He had another dream and told it to his brothers. He said, “Behold! I dreamed another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me.” (Gen. 37:9)
The next verse tells us his family’s response: He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you dreamed? Shall I, your mother and your brothers come and prostrate themselves on the ground to you?”(Gen. 37:10)
Rashi’s comment on this verse reminds us that Yosef’s mother Rachel had already passed away (right after the birth of her second son Benjamin)!
Rashi goes on to tell us that although some commentators have no problem with this fact (as Yosef was raised by his stepmother), Rashi concludes by telling us that our sages believe that no dream is without meaningless parts.
Yet we know that dreams, whether experienced in a deep sleep, or during a few fleeting moments of our waking hours, are crucial to our very being. But, without a spiritual context for our dreams they can serve to disillusion us.
In her famous poem “Ve’ulai” the popular pre state Israeli poet Rachel asks if, “perhaps”, the return of Jews to the Galilee, working its fields, and immersing in its waters is only a dream. Centuries of persecution had taken its toll on the Jewish dreamer, and all dreams were inherently suspect. Pinch me, am I dreaming?
But without taking them seriously, how can any dreams, whether of Yosef, Martin Luther King, or the dream we can barely remember each morning, sustain us, and guide us towards realizing our potential?
How much can we rely on our dreams to inform us, and what parts are suspect, and ultimately meaningless?
One of the results of living a committed Jewish life is the constant opportunity for self reflection, affirmation of core values, and a continuous re-aiming towards the spiritual targets we hope to hit during our lives. Ayn Rand, in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology writes, “Consciousness is the faculty of awareness— the faculty of perceiving that which exists….It is only in relation to the external world that the various actions of a consciousness can be experienced, grasped, defined or communicated.”
Any dream that reflects these core values is one that is worth pursuing-no matter how outrageous or unconventional. Those of us who choose to live a Jewish life in the midst of a secular world will constantly be challenged to determine what is valuable, and what is merely “noise”.
Wishing you a peaceful Shabbat, an illuminating Hanukah, and sweet dreams,