By Rabbi Linda Holtzman
The story of Joseph is a story of dreams: first Joseph revealing his own dreams that antagonize his brothers, then Joseph finding the meaning in the dreams of those with whom he is imprisoned, and finally, in this week’s Torah portion, Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and finding himself second in command of all ancient Egypt.
Dreams in the Torah have power as do all the dreams in our own lives. Miketz falls during Chanukah, so dreams are especially important to us right now. We need dreams to give us the impetus to move ahead, to gain vision, to process all that happens in our lives and our world.
This is the time of year that is cold and dark. The days are the shortest of the year. Many of us go out in the darkness in the morning and come home from work after the sun has set. Having so little light and so much dark time should give us extra time to dream, but it isn’t always enough. To learn to use this dark time well, we need to pay attention to Joseph and to what helped him look into dreams so deeply and clearly.
First, Joseph pays attention. He learns as a boy to notice what is going on with others. His own brothers teach him how dangerous it can be to not pay attention. And when Joseph grows up, he is primed to notice everything in life. There are many writers who see Joseph as a queer man: He loves bright, multicolored coats; he isn’t interested in sleeping with his employer’s wife; he is treated like an outsider. Joseph learns to pay careful attention to everything to help him negotiate the challenging, unaccepting world.
As we read the story of Joseph, we can all use his inspiration. We can give ourselves ample time to dream and to hold onto our dreams. We can all try to pay closer attention to what the world is bringing us. And we can all use this time to shine a light on what is truly happening in our lives and our world. It is not a coincidence that the story of the dreamer, Joseph, and the holiday, Chanukah, fall at the same time every year.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Joseph, an imprisoned, young, possibly queer outsider, a young man from another land, can use dreams to catapult himself to such a position of power. When Joseph can reach inside and find a way to access the power of dreams, to shine light on the truth, there is no end to what can happen. It is a miracle.
When we give ourselves the time to focus on our dreams, when we shine a light on ourselves and our world, there is no end to what can happen. There can be new miracles. It was up to Joseph to persevere, even from deep within a prison, and to find the light he needed to change the fate of an entire people, an entire country. It is up to each of us to give ourselves the time to step back at this cold, dark time and to shine a light on all that we need to see to change our own people, our own country.
When we shine our lights in the world, miracles happen. Then we see injustice and we work to fight against it. Then we see how people are mistreated because of their race or religion or sexual identity or gender and we work to fight against that mistreatment. Then we stay open to all that desperately needs to be changed and healed in this broken world and we don’t shy away from the work that needs to be done.
It is not easy to let ourselves use these short days with so little light effectively, but the confluence of the Joseph story and the miracle of Chanukah remind us that we can cause miracles. We all have dreams: dreams of a better world, of a community where everyone is treated with loving kindness and respect, dreams of a world where antisemitism and Islamophobia and racism and homophobia and transphobia vanish.
We can use the inspiration of Chanukah and of Joseph to do our part to bring about the miracle of this new world. My hope is that this Chanukah will be the one that inspires us to create a healthier, kinder and more just community and country. Wishing all of us a Chanukah of great miracles!
Linda Holtzman is the director of student life at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the rabbi of the Tikkun Olam Chavurah. She is a commissioner on the Mayor’s Commission on Faith Based and Interfaith Affairs and is involved with the Anti-Gun Violence initiative of Live Free/POWER. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.