To Dream: It’s the Very Essence of Being Human


Vayeishev, Genesis 37:1-40:23

"The only way to make a dream come true," goes the aphorism, "is to wake up." But sometimes, a dream takes time to incubate.

Vayachalom Yosef chalom — "And Joseph dreamed a dream." The salient word, which liltingly lifts itself off the page, is chalom, "dream." Joseph was distrusted because of his dreams; worse yet, he was despised because of his dreams.

Even though he suffered the disparagement and resentment of his brothers, the Torah continues with perhaps one of the heroic accounts of a person with a mission: Vayachalom od chalom. "And he (Joseph) dreamed another dream." The ability to dream is a sign of leadership, and the ability to dream again — even when things don't work out well — has something heroic about it.

And for a Jew, it is essential heroism.

The essence of a dream, its magic and mystique, is that it doesn't have to have an immediate realization to still hold our imagination, animate our soul and solicit our involvement in its realization. Did we not yearn for Zion even after 2,000 years of exile and dislocation? Do we still not say, even after returning to her: az hayinu k'cholmim — "then, we will be like dreamers."

Jewish biographical and intellectual history records an amazing event that occurred to German Jewish philosopher Frank Rosenzweig. Together with his cousin, he resolved to renounce his Judaism and convert to Christianity, either because Judaism did not enchant him or, more likely, because being a Christian was the then-prevailing ticket into the cultural milieu. But still, Rosenzweig decided to give Judaism one final try.

We know very little of what really took place, of what the inner transformation amounted to, but he decided to go to a final Kol Nidre service in Berlin.

Upon leaving, Rosenzweig determined to remain a Jew.

Sometime later, he was asked a question and it is his response — the openness of it — that enchants me.

"Professor Rosenzweig," he was asked, "do you put tefillin on?" Rather than say that this practice doesn't resonate — or worse, that it is atavistic and obsolete — he replied with two Hebrew words, Od lo — "Not yet."

He still reserved the right to dream about the spiritual hold that this mitzvah could have upon him. He still preserved the possibility that this sacred deed could become his reality.

I recall an anecdote in Chicken Soup for the Soul about Thomas Edison. He failed numerous times trying to develop the electric light bulb. Years later, after finally succeeding, he was asked how he coped during the disappointing moments. After all, the questioner reminded him, he had failed in more than 2,000 experiments. Edison replied, "I didn't fail once. Simply put, the creation of the electric light bulb was a 2,000-step process!"

Body and Soul
Many of our dreams never materialize; still others are delayed. But our ability to dream, which really means our desire to make what ought to be into what should be, really sets us apart.

How interesting it is to note that although Jacob was the first to have a dream in the Bible, no one else around him did. Then think of Joseph. He dreams, does so again, talks to his brothers about his dreams, speaks to his father about his dreams — then it seems that everyone else around him begins dreaming. Apparently, when one dreams, it can become infectious.

The tradition asks the question: Why is a dream in Hebrew chalom? May I submit a theory? It's because the word also means to be strengthened, to be restored to health. In our ability to dream, we rejuvenate ourselves — body and soul. And so, in our ability to dream Jewish dreams, we don't just nourish ourselves, but reJewvenate ourselves as well.

Rabbi David Gutterman is the executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia.



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