Miketz 5755

 

 

This week’s reading in the Torah, Miketz, begins in the forty first chapter of the book of Genesis. "Vayhi miketz shnata’yim yamim upharoh kholem — And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed." This, of course, is the story of the two dreams that Pharaoh had, which no one could interpret, except for Joseph, who had to be brought out of prison and, in the course of events was made viceroy over all Egypt. He prepared for the famine, storing the riches of the ‘seven good years’ -- and in the act of doing so got ready for the arrival of his brothers, those beloved-hated ‘rascals’ who fulfilled his destiny by selling him into slavery. When they arrived, as he knew they would, he treated them with love and animosity and bedevils them with his demand that they produce — none other than his full brother, beloved of his father in his old age, Benjamin. He also imprisoned one of them as a guarantee for their return and to satisfy his own need to avenge and impress the brothers. Once the nine brothers came back with the young Benjamin, Joseph framed his little brother for the theft of his "divining" cup, to see how his brothers will react and what they will do.

As I was studying the portion this week, and thinking of the story of our patriarchs from its beginning to this point, I noticed a recurring theme in the portion, which is actually carried over from past readings of events in the lives of the progenitors of the Jewish people. I call this theme the "doubling effect." We begin with Abraham being sent out of his birthplace with the words ‘lekh-lekha’ — which in the Hebrew are look-alike words, two words, lamed, khaf sofit, lamed, khaf sofit, with meanings that are totally different, yet wedded forever as ‘the burden of Abraham.’

There is only one other time (following my observation that things come in twos) in our scriptures that this form appears, with the additional ‘vav,’ which means ‘and’ -- "v’lekh-lekha," when Abraham’s burden becomes even greater, as God calls him to offer his son on mount Moriah, where the angel of God stays his hand with the double call "Avraham, Avraham."

After that first call in Ur, and after years of carrying on God’s message, Abraham is faced with a choice between two sons: Yishma’el and Yitzkhak. He is directed by Sarah and God to choose Yitzkhak and to expel his first born from the camp, and the die is cast. His son, Yitzkhak, lives a much simpler life, staying in one place, near Hebron, most of his days. However, he, too, faces two challenges, maybe to parallel his father’s experience.

During a short sojourn in the land of Grar, he claims Rebecca, his wife, to be his sister. This mirrors Abraham’s double claim, once to Pharaoh and the other to Abimelekh — and in all three events, we are not sure at all that the patriarchs did the right thing, either for their own honor or for their wives’.

Yitzkhak’s second challenge is similar, yet more awesome — he has to make a choice between his twin sons: who shall receive the blessing of the firstborn. As in the case of Abraham, the choice is removed from his control by the action of his wife and the cooperation of his son Jacob in the ruse. Yitzkhak thinks he is blessing Esau — but he is actually giving Jacob the choice approbation.

Jacob, the third and last patriarch, is forces to leave his birthplace and his father’s house and wander to a far off place. While it is true that he is the ‘third’ in the line, he is the second in succession. Some say that Yitzkhak was the "do nothing" patriarch, thus making Jacob the second dynamic, traveling, pro-active progenitor of the Jewish people. His life is full of the ‘doubling effect.’ He is one of two sons, he marries two sisters, he spends 22 years in exile, his beloved wife Rakhel gives him two sons, and he suffers from two ‘eclipses:’ in his childhood he is overpowered by his brother, Esau; in old age he is eclipsed by his beloved son Joseph. Further, this son, Joseph, is taken out of his life, and reported to be dead for a period of 22 years, before he is rediscovered alive and well, the successful Lord and master of all Egypt.

Joseph presents Jacob with his two sons, Menashe and Ephra’yim — and once again the question of a choice of the two is made contrary to the tradition of favoring the firstborn. Jacob takes ‘Ephraim and Menashe’ to be equals of his other sons.

As for Joseph, his life is full of the ‘doubling effect’ — he is blessed by God with two dreams that tell him of his destiny. His life and future is determined by two brothers, one, Reuven, who saves him from quick death at the hand of his brothers, and the second, Yehuda, who saves him from a slow death in the pit by suggesting that they sell him to the travelers on their way south.

He is introduced to Egyptian society by two: Potiphar, who recognized Joseph’s talents and elevated him, to train and prepare him for his destiny — and Potiphar’s wife, who exposed Joseph to the temptations of the flesh and taught him the expensive lesson of court politics by having him thrown in jail for a crime he did not commit, to punish him for his real transgression, the one of denying her the pleasure of his company -- which she wanted him to commit, and which he refused to do.

In jail, Joseph was challenged by the two out-of-grace servants of Pharaoh, who suffered from recurring dreams and who demanded that he interpret their nocturnal revelations. This, in turn, led to Joseph’s arrival before Pharaoh, as we read in this week’s portion, to solve the monarch’s double dream and accept the dual role of taskmaster and savior of all Egypt.

This ‘doubling effect’ continues in our Scriptures and in our heritage, with Moses and Aaron; the Two Tablets of the Covenant; the ‘choices placed before Israel’ by Moses — the blessing and the curse, good and evil, life and death; the two great kings of our nation, David and Solomon; the two national entities — Yehuda and Yisra’el; the two Temples, the two destructions on the one day -- the ninth of Av, the two redemptions — separated as they are by two thousand years. In our own days, Judaism’s new vigor at the two ‘ends of the earth’ — Jerusalem and the United States of America.

Our Lord, barukh hu uvarukh shemo -- blessed be He and blessed be his name -- is One, and He has created us with a duality, which is both our curse ( yetzer tov v. yetzer ra, the good v. the evil inclination), and our salvation — for you can harm one side of us, but the second is there to support and succor the first, to insure recovery, to assure survival, to effect our eternity. For this we give thanks to God for His infinite grace and wisdom.

 

Amen.

 

 

Miketz 5756 -- Shabbat Khanukkah

 

 

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Shabbat and Khanukkah at the same time. We read in the Torah from the books of Genesis, the portion of Miketz, chapter 41, beginning with the words, "And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed..." Since time immemorial people have had dreams. Some people dream to resolve conflicts in their daily life. Some people dream to sublimate their most secret fears or desires. Still others, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future. Last week’s portion told us the story of Joseph, Jacob’s son by his beloved wife, Rakhel -- who became his favorite son. Joseph dreamed dreams in which he had been shown what he believed to be his future: he stood above his brothers, ruling over them; or, in another dream, his whole family, father, father’s wives and all his siblings, pay him homage. It is not unusual for a child to have such dreams. A bright and ambitious youth, especially one growing up in the midst of eleven other sons, needs to feel positive about his chances to rise to the top and become a pivotal personage in the life of his family and his clan. Joseph, alone of all his siblings, had these dreams, and had the ambition burning in him to make the dreams come true.

Now we wed the dreams to a vehicle: a king who is short on answers, who is beset by self doubts and worried about making decision that may bring him down in disrepute and make him the least liked monarch of all times... What is he to do? He looks for an "interpreter" of his dreams – or in other words a ‘soul-mate’ who will understand his concerns and his fears and know how to act upon them -- to make the king look good if all goes well – and to become the scapegoat and the sacrificial lamb, if need be, if things go badly and the King’s visions turns out to be wrong. Joseph and the Pharaoh are a perfect match. One has daring and the other has sovereignty, one has understanding and the other has authority, one has ambition and the other has power. Together they reshape the very character of Egypt, make possible the preservation of the kingdom of Pharaoh and the salvation of the family of Abraham – and prove that dreams are the stuff that the future is made of even in the yardstick of hindsight.

Another day, another dream. Mattatyahu the Hasmonaen was a kohen gadol – a high priest of the family of Aaron ben Amram -- brother of Moshe, the Torah giver. Mattatyahu was an old man, retired from public service and living in a small hamlet called Modi’in, in the hills of Judea north of Jerusalem. He saw the glory of Torah and the prestige of the priesthood violated in an orgy of popular ‘Hellenistic’ modernization of life in the ancient homeland of the Jews. He dreamt of the days of old, he dreamt of his five sons fulfilling the words of the prophet, living each under his vine and under his fig tree. A dream typified by the words, "Peace on earth, good will towards man." But this dream was of his own making, it was not a prophetic dream placed there by God. The Lord had a different fate in mind for the old priest. The Greeks came to his village and asked him to cooperate and collaborate with them in their peaceful offer of homage to the Greek king and God, Antiochus the Great. Mattetyahu would not countenance such apostasy, and instead, slew the Hellenized Jew who was brought in by the soldiers to do the dirty deed if the old priest chose to refuse. Who would have dreamed that the old priest, a man of peace in the winter of his years, would spark a revolt. His sons jumped the soldiers and killed them, and Mattetyahu raised the banner of revolt with the words ‘Mi Ladona’y Ela’y!’ – whom so ever is for God, let him follow me! His middle son, Yehuda, in the needs of the hour, became a brilliant general of the rebel army that fought the seasoned mercenaries of the Greek king and opened the road to reclaim the defiled capital and the Temple within it. Yehuda did not have an inkling of a dream that his choice of a verse from the Song of the Sea, "Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Adona’y" – ‘who is like you among the gods, Oh Lord’ would bestow upon him the name ‘maccabee,’ and that he would go down in history as the first freedom fighter of all times!

And who would have dreamed that in another age, a shoot of the stock of Jacob would sprout a legion of new dreamers, men such as my grandfather, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Menakhem Ussishkin, David Ben-Gurion, Kha’yim Weizman and so many others – who would dream of a people Israel, bruised and beaten in two thousand years of persecution, coming back to reclaim their place among the nations of the world. Who could have had even a twinkle of a shimmer of a night-vision that with the advent of modern times, with the blessings wrought by the industrial revolution and the rebirth of knowledge that is the offspring of the renaissance, the world would not become more enlightened and accepting of the rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – but would instead become more brutal, more selfish and demanding for the right of the strong to overpower and subjugate the weak and defenseless, even unto death. Who would have ever believed his own eyes at the sight, and not think that it was a dream or an apparition to see the new State of Israel rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of the most devastating attack ever committed against a people in the cruel and senseless event of the holocaust.

We lived through it, we beheld it, and it is so. The dream has come true for us, once again. The miracle did take place! Khanukkah is a time to celebrate dreams and their meanings, as is the time of the reading of the portion of miketz. It is a time to acknowledge that miracles do come true to those who believe in miracles. Let us hope that we continue to dream, that we continue to come awake to see the dream become a reality, and that the day will soon come when the sons of Mattetyahu and Yaakov can truly live in peace, each under his vine and under his fig tree. Let there be peace on earth, and let us all find the love of humanity that God, in creating us, put in our hearts to elevate us from the beast to the Divine.

 

 

MIKETZ 5760

 

This evening and tomorrow we rejoice both in the joy of Shabbat and the merriment of Khanukkah. Since The Festival of Lights is celebrated for eight days, and Shabbat comes every seven days, there is a "Shabbat Khanukkah" every year. However, this is the second Shabbat Khanukkah this year — and that does not happen very often! On this shabbat we read in the Torah from the book of Genesis, chapter 41, beginning with the words, "And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed..."

Since time immemorial people have given accounts of having had dreams. We now know that during sleep the brain goes through cyclic periods of rest and activity when a stage is set, on which unfolds a story or sequence of events. These episodes are common and necessary for us to remain balanced and mentally healthy – and they are most commonly called "dreams." They are illustrations or illusions of our real experiences or they may be hallucinations of desired experiences. What type of reality they express is difficult to decipher. Most dreams are not recollected when we awaken.

What dreams signify has puzzled mankind for thousands of years. In the ancient world dreams were often considered prophetic. Homer’s ‘Iliad’ contains a passage in which King Agamemnon is visited in a dream by an emissary of the chief Greek Deity, Zeus, who thus prescribes the king’s future actions. The Torah is filled with accounts of prophetic dreams, the most famous of which, with out a doubt, is Father Jacob’s dream of the Angels Ascending and Descending. This is not the first account of a dream, though – it is preceded by the dream of Abimelekh, king of the city of Grar, who appropriates Abraham’s wife, claimedby him as a sister, for himself. God appeared to him in a dream, warned him that she is, in fact, Abraham’s wife, and that God protects both the man and his wife! When Judaism was formalized, in the Desert, Moses warned the Israelites: "What ever I command you, take care to do it; you shall not add to it, nor diminish from it. If there arises among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder,

And the sign or the wonder, comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them; You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God tests you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and hold fast to him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he has spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to thrust you out of the way which the Lord your God commanded you to walk in. So shall you purge the evil away from the midst of you." [Deu. 13:1-6]

Of course, no less well known is the account we read last week of Joseph’s dreams and the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants, or the ones we read this week, Pharaoh’s dreams that Joseph is called to interpret. In some ancient cultures dreams were considered a reflection of reality, a means to convey the truth about one’s life that cannot be seen in day-to-day living. There is archeological evidence of dream investigation and interpretation in Nineveh, which was a civilization in Mesopotamia, as well as in ancient India, and in Egypt. The "wise men of Egypt" were masters of interpreting dreams – except, of course, for the ones about fat and lean cows, and fat and lean ears of grain...

On the other hand, dreams have also been viewed, by many sceptics, as nothing more than extensions of the waking state, a carryover into sleep of what a person has thought about or experienced while awake. These sceptics have claimed that dreams are mere flim-flam, the stuff of fairy-tales and children’s stories. They remind us of ‘Don Quixote de la Mancha’ — the Spanish hero of a story by Cervantes. Quixote was a poor gentleman of La Mancha, the bare and monotonous plateau of central Spain. He read so many imaginary tales of exaggerated romances and chivalry of his day that he finally "went over the edge," and believed them to be true. One day he departed his home as a knight-errant on his old horse, Rosinante, with a shrewd, good-natured peasant of his village, Sancho Panza, as his squire. Don Quixote regarded everything he saw as extraordinary. Inns were castles, windmills were giants, and servant girls of doubtful virtue were great ladies to be protected and loved from afar. The word "quixotic" has entered our vocabulary as a term meaning impractical and idealistic, and the phrase "tilting at a windmill" has come to mean a fight against an imaginary difficulty, through Cervantes’ immortal fiction. Yet to the sceptic, "Quixotic" has also come to mean foolish and unrealistic, a little bizarre and maybe even unbalanced and crazy. The sceptics quote Ecclesiastes, chapter 5, verses 1 and 2: "Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes through a multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words."

One of the best-known modern theories of dreams was set forth by Sigmund Freud in his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, which was published in 1899. Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in Freiberg, Moravia (now Pribor, Czech Republic), the son of a Jewish wool merchant. His family moved to Vienna, Austria, when he was 4. He entered the University of Vienna medical school in 1873, and received his degree in medicine in 1881. After serving as intern and resident physician in a hospital, he further studied the nervous system. In 1885 he was awarded a fellowship for a year’s study in Paris. There he worked under Jean-Martin Charcot, a leading authority on hysteria. He returned to Vienna in 1886 and began medical practice, specializing in nervous diseases. The case histories of Freud’s patients provided material for brilliant investigations. He became convinced that sexual causes played a major role in many forms of neurosis. He developed the theory known as the Oedipus complex, which focuses on emotional and sexual complications between parents and children. This theory of his was fully described in‘The Interpretation of Dreams.’ He asserted that the feelings and wishes that are repressed in wakeful thought, particularly those associated with sex and hostility, are released in dreams. Some people dream to resolve conflicts in their daily life.

With the great strides in brain-based research, in our own time, we know that absolutely everybody dreams. We dream to remain mentally healthy. We dream to avoid becoming depressed and detached from our surroundings. Some people dream to resolve or sublimate their most secret fears or desires. Still others, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future. These few may seem "Quixotic" and foolish, ‘out to fight the windmills’ – but actually they are visionaries whose dreams are interpreted by-and-by as blueprints for better living, more noble existence and a greater benefit for all humanity. Last week’s portion told us of Joseph’s dreams, in which he had been shown what he believed to be his future: he stood above his brothers, ruling over them; or, in another dream, his whole family, father, father’s wives and all his siblings, paid him homage. Joseph, alone of all his eleven siblings, had these dreams, and had the ambition burning in him to make the dreams come true.

The Hebrew Scriptures mention dreams sixty-eight times. Of these, the book of Daniel contains twenty-eight mentions. Daniel is, without a doubt, the most mystical of the books of our tradition. Yet another mystical book, Job, mentions dreams only twice! Still, it is in Job that we find these profound verses: "For God speaks once, twice, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds; Then he opens the ears of men, and with discipline seals their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." [33:14-18]

Mattatyahu Hasmonaen was a high priest of the family of Aaron. He was an old man, retired from public service and living in a small hamlet the hills of Judea north of Jerusalem, called Modi’in. He saw the glory of Torah and the prestige of the priesthood violated in an orgy of popular ‘Hellenistic’ modernization of life in the ancient homeland of the Jews. He dreamed of days of old, and he dreamed for his five sons a life fulfilling the words of the prophet, each living under his vine and under his fig tree. Peace on earth, good will towards men. But this dream was of his own making, it was not a prophetic dream placed there by God. The Lord had a different fate in mind for the old priest. The Greeks came to his village and asked him to cooperate and collaborate with them in their homage to the Greek king, Antiochus, and his God, Zeus. Mattetyahu would not countenance such apostasy, and when a Hellenized Jew who was brought in by the soldiers to do the dirty deed if the old priest chose to refuse stepped forward, Mattetyahu slew the man. Who would have dreamed that the old priest, a man of peace in the winter of his years, would spark a revolt. His sons jumped the soldiers and killed them, and Mattetyahu raised the banner of revolt with the words ‘Mi Ladona’y Ela’y!’ – whom so ever is for God, let him follow me! His middle son, Yehuda, in the needs of the hour, became a brilliant general of the rebel army that fought the seasoned mercenaries of the Greek king and opened the road to reclaim the defiled capital and the Temple within it. Yehuda did not have an inkling of a dream that his choice of a verse from the Song of the Sea, "Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Adona’y" – ‘who is like you among the gods, Oh Lord,’ would bestow upon him the name ‘maccabee,’ and that he would go down in history as the first freedom fighter of all times!

Joseph had a vision of the future, and he recognized that this prescience will come true. He recognized the same message of coming events in Pharaoh’s dream — and he knew how to prepare for that future. In our own times visionaries have dreamed of our people’s re-emergence as a nation in our own homeland, Eretz Yisrael. When Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, David Ben-Gurion and others began to speak and work for the realization of their dream, many thought of them as "Quixotic" — but they persevered. Their purpose prospered, their dreams came true. Our dreams, if they are God inspired, will also be realized — if we dedicate ourselves to their cause.

Amen

 

 

 

Miketz 5761

 

This week’s reading in the Torah, Miketz, begins in the forty first chapter of the book of Genesis. "Vayhi miketz shnata’yim yamim upharoh kholem — And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed..." This, of course, is the story of the two dreams of Pharaoh, which no one could interpret, except for the lowly innocent prisoner, Joseph, who knew how to explain the message of the dreams, devise a plan to prepare for the emergency, and, in the course of events was able to insinuate himself into Pharaoh’s service as viceroy over all Egypt. This story is a kingpin in the argument of non-religious people as to the lack of veracity of our Scriptures. “Dreams, what a silly claim as a device for predicting the future,” they say.

 

Now, I will not deal with the ‘semantics issue,’ calling something a dream, an ambition, a hope, or a fantasy, a vision, a muse, or whatever – you all know what we are speaking of. Or maybe not... Well, I have in mind the kind of situation that we all lived through in the early 1960's. We had a handsome and heroic president in the White House, we all remembered his inauguration speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you...” We were not surprised, and we did not laugh when he said, “we aim to see a man on the moon before the end of this decade – and this man will be an American...” We smiled and thought that it maybe a far-fetched dream, but in the Age of Camelot anything and everything was possible. In time, our heroic president was felled by an assassin, our nation became embroiled in Viet-Nam, but still the dream survived, and before the decade was up – by golly – we had that first small step for man, Americans making a giant leap for mankind and landing on the moon.

Remember also the words of the song by Hammerstein that became such a hit in the play he wrote with music by Rogers:

 

Happy, talking talking, happy talk -

Talk about things you’d like to do...

You gotta have a dream,

If you don’t have a dream,

How you gonna have a dream come true...

 

The twentieth century was a time of dream fulfillment for Judaism. We dared to dream of a time when we shall be free to live our lives with pride in our heritage and without restrictions on our choice of profession and place of residence. We made strides and contributed to the advancement of civilization, establishing two great centers of Jewish life - one in the United States and the other in Israel. Talk about dreams... You all know, don’t you, that David Ben-Gurion was advised by many NOT to declare the establishment of the state. I couple of years after the fact, while visiting the United States, Ben-Gurion was visiting with President Truman.

 

“Tell me, Ben,” asked the U.S. President, “Where did you get the courage to declare the establishment of the state in face of all the odds against it?

 

“Well, you see, Mr. President,” answered Israel’s first Prime Minister, “we are a modern state and we claim the right of sovereignty - but we always figure on miracles happening.” He added this wonderful afterthought. “You know, Mr. President, in Israel we take care of the difficult right away. The impossible takes a little longer...”

 

Our Scriptures, the Tanakh, mentions dreams sixty-eight times. Of these, the book of Daniel contains twenty-eight mentions. Daniel is, without a doubt, the most mystical of the books of our tradition. Yet another mystical book, Job, mentions dreams only twice! Still, it is in Job that we find these profound verses: "For God speaks once, twice, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds; Then he opens the ears of men, and with discipline seals their instruction, that he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keeps back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword." [Job 33:14-18]

 

Poets tell us, “row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily - life is but a dream!”

 

Some dreams contain more truth and more messages than others. Some people remember all their dreams and others firmly believe that they never dream. Often, though, dreams are the vehicle of communion and communication with God. His message is real, and if we act upon it, we can do great things. Those who have no dreams walk in a world of shadows and emptiness. May we always continue to dream dreams and follow their message bravely and resolutely. And may all our dreams come true, especially the one of the Messianic era, when all mankind will recognize that God is king, and it is fit to give Him homage.

Amen

 

Miketz 5762

This evening and tomorrow we celebrate both Shabbat and Khanukkah at the same time. Because Khanukkah is not a holiday "from Torah" - that is one of the High Holidays or the Pilgrimage holidays - we continue the regular reading in the cycle of parshi'yot, and we have arrived at the 41st chapter of Beresheet, Genesis, beginning with the words, "Va'yhi miketz shnata'yim upharaoh kholem - And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed..." This is not a unique event, to be sure. Since time immemorial people have had dreams. Most people don't recall their dreams when they wake up. Those who do recall them report that some of their dreams seem to resolve conflicts in their daily life. Others report that their dreams sublimate their most secret wishes, anxieties or desires. Still others, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future.
The portion we read last week in the Torah told the story of Joseph, Jacob's favorite son, born of Rakhel, his beloved wife, whom the patriarch elevated above all his sons. Joseph dreamt dreams in which his future was shown to him in an abstract form: sheaves in the field, stars in the heavens. In one of these dreams he stood above his brothers, ruling over them; in another, his whole family – father, father's wives and all his siblings, pay him homage. Joseph, alone of all his siblings, different from his father and his forefathers, had these dreams – conceivably a sign of the ambition burning within him to make something of himself in the large household of his father.
At this week's point in the story of our progenitors, the dreams come from the King of Egypt. The text says that Pharaoh had two visions in the same night: first, seven fine fat cows come out of the Nile, followed by seven gaunt and sick looking cows. The gaunt cows devour the fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. Next he sees seven ears of grain upon one stalk, plump and good. And, as in the case of the cows he had seen in his last dream, these plump ears were followed by seven thin ears, blasted by the hot desert east wind – which sprung up after the plump ears and devoured them. Pharaoh awoke, and realized that it had been merely a dream. Yet, what for other mortals is a dream – to a monarch of antiquity's greatest civilization it is a mystery to be understood and acted upon. Pharaoh called his magicians and wise men and asked them for an interpretation. They had none. At this point in the story, the chief butler, who had had his dream interpreted by Jopseph in jail, recalls his deliverance and speaks to the king about him: "And there was there with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored to my office, and him he hanged." [Gen. 41:12,13]
Joseph is brought out of the jail and into the presence of the ruler of Egypt, and he is challenged: "I have dreamed a dream, and there is none who can interpret it; and I have heard say of you, that you can understand a dream to interpret it." [Gen. 41:15] Joseph replies with humility that he is merely a vessel to pass on God's wisdom to the king, and bids him tell his tale. Pharaoh does, allowing that he awoke after the event of the cows and before he saw the next vision. He proceeds with the second half of his dream – which, surely, was the more bizarre and aberrant. Even while cows are not carnivorous in nature, it is still conceivable to us that animals can attack other animals. We are much less capable of imagining what is basically a variety of grass as being capable of attacking and devouring anything whatsoever. That may explain why the magicians and wise men of Egypt could not interpret their king's dream.
Pharaoh was looking for an "interpreter" of his dreams – or in other words for a ‘soul-mate,' someone who would have his scope of concern and understanding of the unfolding of destiny. The grain was a symbol of productivity – and Pharaoh shared this symbol with the Hebrew slave, who had dreamt of the sheaves of his brothers, that stood around, and made obeisance to his sheaf. Joseph recognized the repeating theme of his own two dreams, and now saw clearly that he and the Pharaoh were a perfect match. One had daring and the other had sovereignty, one had ambition and the other had power, one had understanding and the other had authority. In a flash, Joseph realized that this was the solution to his dreams as well as those of the potentate. Together they could and would reshape the very character of Egypt, preserve the kingdom of Pharaoh and save the seed of father Abraham.
The only question was how does one insure that Pharaoh would not discard him after his moment of need. "And Joseph said to Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dream is one." [Gen 41:25,26] Joseph ingratiates himself to the king by praising his dream with singularity of purpose, with singularity of vision, with focus and with sensitivity. Others might not have dared to dream of the grain – or admit to it in public, as the good and caring monarch has done. Others may not have understood the symbolism of the grain, as well as the unnatural behavior of the herbivores. Only Pharaoh and Joseph could make the leap of imagination necessary to move from the dream to the reality. Now Joseph challenges the king, "Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt." [Gen. 41:33] Joseph knows that there is no other man for the task but him, and he makes sure that Pharaoh realizes it, too. "The dream is one" dear king, and you are one - and I am one. We are the unique and quintessential individuals whom the Lord places on this good earth to be a blessing to all His creatures. That is why I was sold into slavery, to be here for you when you and Egypt have this need for me. I am the one – whose dreams, sent by God to guide me, who was given those cursed dreams that seemed to ruin my life – who was honed and prepared for this day, for this dream, for this destiny, as the tool of God for the benefit of His purpose.
Eighteen hundred years later, after the exodus from Egypt and the destruction of Solomon's temple, after the great return to Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemaiah, Yehuda, middle son of Mattetyahu Hasmonaen, became a brilliant general of the rebel Judean army that fought the seasoned mercenaries of the Greek king Antiochus "the Great," and opened the road to reclaim Jerusalem, the defiled capital, and the Temple within it. Yehuda did not have an inkling of a dream that his choice of a verse from the Song of the Sea, "Mi Kamokha Ba'elim Adona'y – who is like you among the gods, Oh Lord" [Ex. 15:11] would bestow upon him the name ‘maccabee,' and that he would go down in history as the first freedom fighter of all times!
In every age, God Almighty sends us visionaries and dreamers. They are the pivotal players of the unfolding drama of human history. Many rise to the occasion, as Yehuda did – few have the clear vision and understanding of Joseph, the dreamer and interpreter of dreams, the man of destiny who saved a nation and saved nothing less than the purpose of God.

Amen

Shabbat Khanukkah Miketz

We are celebrating the second Khanukkah Shabbat - an event that does not happen very often. You all know that Khanukkah recalls the events of the revolt of the Jews against the Greek Assyrians in the second century before the common era. What can we say of this revolt? Personally, I always think about it as the dress-rehearsal for the American revolution. The maccabbean war was unlike any before – and for eighteen hundred years after it ended. It was not waged to conquer territory nor for the spoils of war – nor was it purely a war to defend a nation from an encroaching foe or an enemy seeking to take over the land and exile or wipe out the population. Judea, the homeland of the Jews, had been vanquished by its Babylonian enemies more than three hundred years before the evens we are speaking of. The Jews were exiled and later allowed to return to their land by the Persian ruler who conquered Babylon. The Jewish homeland was a vassal state of Persia, which was in turn conquered by Alexander the Great and his Greek empire.
Alexander was an amazing phenomenon in the history of the world. He was a brilliant military man - but he was educated by the finest Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Under Aristotle, Alexander learned philosophy, ethics, politics, and healing, all of which became of the utmost importance for Alexander in his all too short life. Unlike his teacher, Alexander was open to ideas that were not Greek in origin. Thus, when arriving in Judea at the head of his army, he had heard of the Hebrew scriptures and held the Jews in great respect. He entered the capital, Jerusalem, on foot, claiming to come as a pilgrim rather than a conqueror. The Jews loved his gesture – and became steadfast supporters. By age thirty Alexander had established the largest empire of the ancient world to his time, and his culture, called Hellenism, became universally accepted as "the world standard"– even though he allowed his subjects total freedom of choice in their religion and culture.
Hellenism was the absolute worst thing that could have happened to Judaism! I say this strictly from a Jewish point of view – it is not a critique of Christianity nor of Alexander. Judaism had existed for two thousand years, and had a deep commitment to the teaching of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all humanity. Hellenism taught a "philosophy" that was attractive but with no real values. One of my teachers summed it up by saying that Hellenism believed that what was beautiful was good while Judaism taught that what was good was beautiful. The difference is profound!
Unfortunately, many Jews became blinded by the glitter of Greek culture. Assimilation into the ways of the Greeks was rampant - especially among the rich and the politically connected among the Jews. Because Hellenism was so open and permissive, these Hellenized Jews wished to take some of their "old" culture with them into their new existence. They translated the Hebrew Scriptures, the Torah, the prophets and the writings into Greek. However, they were not expert in the Greek tongue - and in their assimilation had forgotten some of their Hebrew. The translation, known as "Septuagint," was a source of misunderstanding between Jews that led eventually to a schism between the Hellenists and the faithful, who were known as "Khassidim." These, by the way, are not the same as modern day "Khassidim."
Alexander died unexpectedly at age thirty three - he may well have been assassinated. His empire was split in three, the southern empire, led by Ptholmy in Egypt; the northern empire led by Antiochus in Assyria (which was actually centered in Turkey) – and the Greek islands and mainland. The land of the Jews was in the border area between north and south. It was first ruled from Egypt, and then by the northern empire.
The Hellenist Jews resented and even hated their fellow-Jews who remained faithful to the old ways. It was they who came to the emperor of the north and suggested that he "unite his empire" by forcing all to Hellenize – forbidding the use of Hebrew and the study of the Hebrew scriptures. The Khassidim, being peace-loving by conviction, stuck to their faith and did not oppose the soldiers that came to execute them for breaking the king's new law. Until a small detachment came to Modiin, some fifteen miles north of Jerusalem. There, an old Levite, of the family of Aaron, the High Priest, named Mattityahu, and his five sons lived. The old priest refused to worship the Greek idols, and when the soldiers attempted to have a Hellenist offer a sacrifice to Zeus in the market place, Mattityahu killed him, his sons killed the soldiers of the small detachment that had come to the village, and the war was joined.
The damage of the Greek culture goes far beyond the Khanukkah issue. The Greek translation of the Tanakh caused the rise of Christianity as a "new testament" and a "new Israel." This new religion misunderstood many of the teachings of our Tanakh, and saw us as competitors for the favor of God, and as enemies of their way of worship and of their God. Because of their enmity to Judaism, the next religion to come out of the same roots, Islam, also became inimical to Judaism. The basic teaching of our Torah, that God is universal and father to all mankind, was lost to the world for two thousand years, and the sword ate incessantly both Jews and their enemies in a frenzy of inhumanity that is still not over.
Which brings me to the portion of the Torah which we read this week. The Torah tells us the continuing saga of the life of Joseph, whom his brothers called, derisively, "this dreamer." [Gen. 37:19] Joseph, the obnoxious favorite of his father, who because of his nature – and his brothers lack of fraternal fidelity – ended up a slave in Egypt. The same qualities that brought him to the Egyptian prison also set him free. He was a dreamer – and he understood the dreams of others. He interpreted the dream of Pharaoh, and he knew how to act upon the message of the dream. He kept his integrity in his low estate, and he knew how to conduct himself to gain the respect and trust of the ruler of Egypt. Talent was there, evidently – but so was his Abrahamic faith. He was the first"blessing"to come to a nation from the "seed of Abraham" – even as God had promised our father when He took him out of Ur. Joseph's successful planning for Egypt put him in place to help his brothers when the famine hit the Land of Canaan.
It has been the same ever since, wherever Jews were given a chance to live their lives as Jews and contribute to society at large we have been a blessing to the nations. Jews remained literate in the dark ages – and kept the books of the Vatican. Jews contributed to the discovery of the new world - Columbus had a Jewish cartographer (map maker) and a Jewish interpreter. Jews collected the money to pay the ransom to save Richard the Lion-heart. More Jews have won the Nobel prize than any other ethnic, religious or national group by proportion to their numbers in world population. Time Magazine's "man of the century" upon whose discoveries and teachings modern science and industry is based is non else but Albert Einstein. Science, music, art, literature, even sports have seen their Jewish star performers. We have contributed out of all proportion to our small numbers in the world. All we need is to be faithful to our God, to our teachings that come from that God. We are still the people who believe that what is good is beautiful, and the world is a better place for it.

Amen

Miketz 5764 Second Khanukkah Shabbat

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate the second Shabbat that is a part of Khanukkah. Even though it is a holiday, we read in the Torah the "sequential" portion from the book of Genesis, the portion of Miketz, chapter 41, beginning with the words, "And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed.."
Since time immemorial people have had dreams. Some people dream to resolve conflicts in their daily life. Some people dream to sublimate their most secret fears and/or desires. Still others, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future.
Oh, I know what you think – that it is only an illusion, that no one can foretell the future, in a dream or in any other way. Yet, there are records of people who had dreams that they recorded and certified – and the events they dreamed of did, in fact, happen. And lest you think that it was a case of "self-fulfilled prophecy," I will hasten to inform you that the record shows that the dreamer had no connection to, or effect on, the event that happened as it was seen in the dream.
Which leads to the "question of the day:" How is that possible?
The answer, of course, is in the dreamer. Some people are very sensitive to events that are happening all around them, and they are more intuitively aware than what their conscious mind allows them to unravel and put into words in their wakeful state of being. When they are asleep, their minds run free – free of the restrictions placed upon it by convention and humility, by fear of repercussion and the desire to get along socially with their peers. Thus, Joseph, a young lad with brothers older and more powerful than he is, dreams that he stands above his brothers, ruling over them; or, in another dream, his whole family, father, father's wives and all his siblings, pay him homage. A bright and ambitious youth such as Joseph, especially one growing up in the midst of ten other sons, and being the favorite of his father, needs a positive venue to channel his ambitions to rise to the top and become a pivotal personage in the life of his family and his clan. Joseph, alone of all his siblings, had these dreams, and had the ambition burning in him to make the dreams come true – and the understanding to interpret his dreams and understand what they mean.
With this quality, Joseph gets swept by the torrent of events that propel him to his moment of opportunity. His position in the family, and his family's place in the scheme of historical events make it impossible for him to dominate the stage all by himself. Time and again he must ingratiate himself to those in position of power and authority – Potiphar and the wine steward of king Pharaoh. It is not surprising, then, to meet Joseph's benefactor, and discover that he, too, is a dreamer.
We know very little about this ruler of all Egypt – we do not know his place in history quite exactly, or even his name. But we become aware, right from the start, that he is a king who is short on answers, who is beset by self doubts and worried about making decisions that may save his land – or bring him down in disrepute and shame. What is he to do? He looks for an "interpreter" of his dreams – a ‘soul-mate' – who will understand his concerns and his fears and know how to act upon them. The "right" man will make the king look good if all goes well, and give credit to the king for "dreaming up" the policy that saved the nation. And the beauty of the plan is that, should things go badly and the King's visions turn out to be wrong, the "right man" can become the scapegoat and the sacrificial lamb. Joseph and the Pharaoh are a perfect match. One has imagination and daring – the other has sovereignty and power; one has understanding and intuition and the other has authority and a desire to do well, one has ambition and the other has potency.
Tonight we celebrate the last night of the Feast of rededication, Khanukkah. This holiday, which is so important to us, has been peripheral and secondary for Jews in most of the two thousand years of our exile. Why is that? I believe it is because it was a celebration of a dream – and its illusion of coming true. It seemed to our sages in antiquity that it is not a good idea to give the remnant of the Jewish people a false sense of hope in a possibility of redemption by force of arms. Redemption, they taught, comes of the Lord – "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts." [Zachariah 4:6] We are Jews, they told the people, and we bend with the wind, lest we break. We are small, and we can get swept away and perish. And they were right!
For two thousand years they were right. The world, however, did not stand still, and in time, the spirit of the Maccabees was reborn, in Jews and in Christians, who found refuge in a "New World," in the North American continent. Here the spirit of Joseph found nourishment in a fertile soil. The ideas and ideals of men who believed in human rights and individual liberty germinated in this country and bloomed in a new society, founded on the principles of the sanctity of life, the right to liberty, and the potential of the human spirit to grow far beyond the limits of its small size and puny physical strength. This revolutionary idea, old-new and ever fresh, once allowed to mature, could not be stopped. From America it went to France, and then to the Balkans. It invaded old kingdoms and set free peoples held captive since time immemorial.
Is it any wonder that it finally came home to the people who first realized its power? Is it at all surprising that the legacy of Joseph came to bless his seed and that of his brothers, to whisper in their hearts, in their very essence, "Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you;" [Gen. 12:1] God was calling us back to His land, to the place of His promise to Avraham, His proof to and for Yitzkhak, his pledge to Ya'akov. He called all the people – but only the dreamers heard, and only the daring came. Many Jews were well-settled in the lands of their dispersion. Many felt that only a cataclysmic, God driven miracle would bring us back, would revive the land and restore the people.
They lingered. They remained in their well established semi-autonomous "Jerusalem of Lithuania," the grand center of Warsaw, the great halls of science and art in Berlin and Paris and Rome – and they perished for their comfort. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame them, God forbid, for their terrible fate. It was the wickedness of those who wished us ill that brought them down. However, the dreamers had seen the coming calamity and called out to them to escape. The wicked, flesh eating cows were coming, and nothing could satisfy their hunger. They devoured a third of our people, and only by the grace of God were the others saved.
Our pious leaders led us astray. As in the days of Joseph, when his brothers laughed at his dreams and gave him away to erase those dreams; just as in the days of Mattetyahu Hasomonean and Yehudah Maccabee, when the priests bought their office from Antiochus and Rabbis led their flock to be slaughtered without resistance by an enemy without pity. Judaism's leaders in the first quarter of the twentieth century fought tooth and nail against Zionism. Without dreams and without daring, they ended up leading the flock to the edge of extinction.
The dreamers prevailed. The nation survived the trauma and lived to rebuild and revitalize – even as it did when the brothers needed to go down to Egypt to find succor, and when the Maccabees were able to restore the Temple service. We, too, must give thanks for miracles wrought to us, in recent times, in days of awe and wonder, in nights of peril and privation. The lights of our khanukiyot burn extra bright these days, and the celebration has assume a new importance, an added dimension of miraculous survival. We thank God "Al hanisim she'asita la'avoteynu v'lanu, ba'yamim hahem uv'yamenu anu – for the miracles you performed for our forefathers and for us, in days of yore and in our very own days." Thank you God – and please, don't ever let the dreamers leave our midst, or we shall surely perish!

Amen

Shabbat shalom

 

Miketz 5765 -- Shabbat Khanukkah


Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate both Shabbat and Khanukkah at the same time. We read in the Torah the portion of Miketz, from the books of Genesis, chapter 41, beginning with the story of Pharaoh’s dream, “And it came to pass at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed; and, behold, he stood by the river. And, behold, there came up from the river seven cows sleek and fat; and they fed in the reed grass. And, behold, seven other cows came up after them from the river, gaunt and thin; and stood by the other cows upon the brink of the river. And the gaunt and thin cows ate the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke.” [Genesis 41:1-4]
Since time immemorial people have been dreaming dreams and seeing visions - some simple, some grandiose, and some very strange and mysterious. Some people dream to resolve conflicts in their daily life. Some people dream to sublimate their most secret fears or desires. Modern medicine tells us that everybody needs to dream to obtain restful sleep – but most people don’t recall the content of their dreams. Thus everyone dreams at night, and some dream while awake, too. Some, a precious few, have dreams that somehow seem to foretell the future. Last week we read about “one of our own” - Yosef - whose dreams landed him in a dry well, and in bondage, and in Jail in Egypt. Yet, in spite of all his difficulties, Yosef continued to believe that God had given him those dreams as a foretelling of the future – he would stand above his brothers, ruling over them; or, as in another dream, his whole family, father, father’s wives and all his siblings, will pay him homage. Yosef, alone of all his siblings, had these dreams, and had the ambition to make the dreams come true.
Pharaoh’s dream is followed by another dream, “and, behold, seven ears of grain came up upon one stalk, plump and good. And, behold, seven thin ears, blasted by the east wind, sprung up after them. And the seven thin ears devoured the seven plump and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream.” [Ibid. 41:6,7] Pharaoh was more than disturbed by these two dreams, because of their un-natural content – cows that devour other cows, ears of wheat that devour other ears of wheat – and because of their appearing to him in the course of one night’s sleep. He was compelled to find the meaning of his dreams. He looked for an “interpreter” of his dreams, or in other words a ‘soul-mate’ who would understand his concerns and his fears and know how to act upon them. Someone who would make the king look good if all goes well – and become the scapegoat and the sacrificial lamb, if need be, if things go badly and the King’s visions turns out to be wrong.
When none of the king’s magicians and wise men step forward to the task, Pharaoh’s cupbearer, who had almost forgotten his pledge in jail to Yosef to speak of him, now recalls, “Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the captain of the guard’s house, both me and the chief baker; And we dreamed a dream in one night, I and he; we dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream. And there was there with us a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard; and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams; to each man according to his dream he did interpret. And it came to pass, as he interpreted to us, so it was; me he restored to my office, and him he hanged.” [Ibid. 41:10-13] The future is coming together as Pharaoh calls for Yosef to be brought before him. Joseph and the Pharaoh are a perfect match. One has daring and the other has sovereignty, one has understanding and the other has authority, one has ambition and the other has power. Together they reshape the very character of Egypt, make possible the preservation of the kingdom of Pharaoh and the salvation of the family of Abraham – and prove that dreams are the stuff that the future is made of – even in the “perfect vision” of hindsight.
This “stuff of dreams” is not restricted to the Torah – and this Shabbat we celebrate another dream that came true. Mattetyahu the Hasmonean was an elderly kohen gadol – a high priest – retired from public service and living in a small hamlet called Modi’in, in the hills of Judea north of Jerusalem two centuries before the Common Era. He saw the glory of our heritage and the prestige of the priesthood violated in an orgy of popular ‘Hellenistic’ modernization of life in the ancient homeland of the Jews. He saw the temple defiled and the priesthood sold to the highest bidder. He dreamt of a return to the days of old, he dreamt of his five sons living a simple and consecrated life working the land that God had given them. Not even in his wildest dreams did he envision himself and his sons raising the banner of revolt, taking up arms and waging war against the enemies of Israel and of God Almighty. When the Greeks came to his village and asked him to cooperate and collaborate with them in their drive “to pay homage to the Greek king and God, Antiochus the Great” – Mattetyahu would not countenance such apostasy. He raised the banner of revolt with the words ‘Mi Ladona’y Ela’y!’ – whom so ever is for God, let him follow me! His middle son, Yehuda, in the needs of the hour, became the brilliant general of the rebel army that fought and defeated the seasoned mercenaries of the Greek king in battle after battle until they opened the road to reclaim the defiled capital and the Temple within it. They cleansed and rededicated God’s temple and ordained the eight-day celebration of the Festival of Lights which we also celebrate this Shabbat.
The dream of freedom of choice dreamt by Mattetyahu and his sons became the inspiration to the dreams of another people in a far off land. God-fearing men and women, led by Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry and John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and Sam Adams, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were the spiritual heirs of the Maccabees, and saw themselves as men and women dedicated to the same dream of the dignity of each and every citizen, and the “self evident right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Another day, another dream. In 1875, in a small town in Lithuania, a young Jew was studying for his school entrance exam to gymnasium, when “suddenly as if lightening struck, an incandescent light radiated before my eyes, and my conscious thought flew from Shifka Pass in the Balkans to the Jordan River Crossing in the Land of Israel, and I heard a strange inner voice calling to me: “The revival of Israel and its language on the land of the forefathers! This was the dream!” [Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, autobiography, published in Hebrew] His dream coalesced with other’s – Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Menakhem Ussishkin, David Ben-Gurion, Kha’yim Weizman and so many others – who dreamed and labored to bring to fruition “The revival of Israel and its language on the land of the forefathers.”
Who would have ever believed his own eyes at the sight, and not think that it was a dream or an apparition – to see a new Jewish commonwealth, the new State of Israel rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of the most devastating attack ever committed against a people in the barbaric, heartless, cruel and senseless event of the holocaust. Just when men and women of faith looked around them and thought that perhaps God had given up on humanity, that our wickedness condemned us all to extinction, God’s grace allowed the remnant to return to their home, to heal from their violation and grown strong and free and healthy in the safety of their God-given land.
We are all witnesses to the fulfillment of their dream. We have lived to see God’s promise fulfilled, and the miracle of Khanukkah repeat. Khanukkah is a time to celebrate dreams and their meanings, as is the time when we read the portion of miketz. It is a time to acknowledge that dreams DO come true to those who believe in miracles. May we always be blessed with dreamers and believers, with Yosefs and Mattityahus, Yehudas and Herzls. Let their dreams bring a time of peace on earth, and let us all find the love of humanity that God, in creating us, put in our hearts to elevate us from the beast to the Divine.

 

 

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