Torah Reading for Week of November 25-December 1, 2018
“Dreams and Dreidels”
by Rabbi Alicia Magal, ’03
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
The Torah portion Miketz (Genesis 41:1 – 44:17) begins with “At the end (miketz) of two years” … Pharaoh has troubling dreams. Some years, as in this year, Miketz is read during Hanukkah. When that happens, the Haftarah portion is changed. For Miketz it is usually I Kings 3:15 – 4:1, dealing with King Solomon’s dream about asking God for wisdom concerning the two mothers fighting over custody of a baby, with his dream being the link between the two readings. But on the Shabbat during the Festival of Hanukkah, that Haftarah is replaced by a reading from the prophet Zechariah (Zech.2:14 – 4:7) encouraging the people of Judah to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed in 586 BCE. His vision of a candelabrum is the connection with Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. This Haftarah also contains the beautiful saying, “Not by might, not by power, but through My spirit.”
Joseph the Dreamer and the Dream Interpreter has something of the prophet in his talents and life story. Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams had gotten him in trouble as a youth when he predicted that his brothers and father would one day bow down to him. Now, at age 30, he is tempered by his descents: first into a pit, then into slavery, and, despite his innocence, into prison, falsely accused of having assaulted the wife of his boss Potiphar. From these humbling experiences he has matured and has learned to use his skills and talents not for self-aggrandizement but to help others. Pharaoh’s chief butler had been freed from that same prison as Joseph had predicted, and it is the butler who suggests that Pharaoh relate his troubling dreams to the Hebrew.
“Pharaoh awoke suddenly, and then slept again (Gen. 41:4 -5)” only to have the same symbolic dream with different images: in the first dream seven lean, mangy cows swallow up seven healthy cows; and in the second dream seven scrawny ears of corn devour seven fat, healthy ears of corn. Pharaoh described his two dreams, which were really one dream-message, to Joseph, who has been brought up from the prison, bathed and dressed for an audience with Pharaoh.
Now Joseph uses his talents not for egotistical boasting but for the good of others, for a wider vision. If dream is 1/60 of prophesy (b. Brachot 55b) then Joseph has become like a prophet, in that he sees what is coming and uses that knowledge in a wise way so that there will food during the seven years of famine which will follow the seven years of plenty, as he interpreted the dreams to signify.
Pharaoh recognizes in Joseph the suitable overseer of this project of storage and portioning out of grain. Despite his exalted official position, Joseph has much unfinished personal family business. Now comes the opportunity for him to settle accounts. Joseph’s brothers are among those who travel down to Egypt to seek food, and stand before Joseph, although they do not recognize him as their younger brother whom they had sold into slavery. But when his brothers actually bow down to him as in his boyhood dream, he no longer needs that honor. Rather than give in to feelings of revenge and anger, he devises tests in this and next week’s portion, and will determine that his brothers also have matured, as he observes them being protective of each other, and regretful of having “lost” their brother.
This week, pay attention to your dreams, and ask what your dreams are guiding you to do. During a Torah service when this portion is being read, I invite people to come up to the Torah for a group Aliyah. The “call” of these verses is for people who wish to be led by their highest visions to come up to the Torah for a blessing: “May the One who blessed our ancestors, including Joseph, with the gift of dreams, also bless you who have come up to the Torah for this Aliyah. May you be guided by your dreams and visions for the highest good, for yourself and for others. May you use your talents and skills to help those you know, and even those out in the world you do not know, to fulfill their own dreams.”
When you gaze into the candlelight of the Hanukkiah each night of the Festival, let yourself “dream” a bit, and consider not only the miracles of Hanukkah according to traditional sources, but also some miracles in your life for which you are grateful. Perhaps you, like Joseph, and like the prophet Zechariah, will have a vision that brings light, gratitude, and positive action into your life and the life of those whose souls are touched by you.