Thursday, December 14, 2006

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Chanukah Sameach
Rabbi Sedley

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enjoy your doughnuts and dreidles!

Click here for a pdf file of the d'var Torah (which can be printed)

Any Dream Will Do

Yosef is described in our Torah portion as ‘the dreamer’ (Genesis 37; 19). This is clearly a reference to his two dreams which he described to his father and brothers, in which they symbolically became subservient to him. Dreams were the cause of the brothers’ jealousy of Yosef, and the reason for his sale into slavery. Yet it was also because of dreams that Yosef was freed from jail and elevated to become the viceroy of Egypt. The end of our portion describes the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and the baker. Yosef interprets these dreams correctly. Then the opening of next week’s portion describes Pharaoh’s dream of the impending fat and lean years. Yosef is let out of jail and through his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream he becomes second in command over all of Egypt. Thus the fulfilment of Yosef’s dream comes about through the dreams of others. It thus seems that the appellation ‘the dreamer’ is an appropriate one.
Being the dreamer gives Yosef a close link with his father, Ya’akov, who is also famous for his dream. When Ya’akov fled from his brother Esav, he had the famous dream of the angels going up and down the ladder, and he saw G-d standing over him. That event changed his life, and as a result of that dream, he began his transformation from Ya’akov, who stole the blessings, to Yisrael, who rightfully earned those blessings. In this light we can interpret the opening of our portion, “These are the descendants of Ya’akov, Yosef...” (ibid. 2). Though he had twelve sons, it was Yosef the dreamer who was the continuation of the dream of Ya’akov.
The Torah explains Ya’akov’s favouritism towards Yosef “because he was the child of his old age (ben zikunim)” (ibid.). This phrase demands interpretation, since it was Binyamin, not Yosef who was Ya’akov’s youngest child. Therefore Rashi explains, based on Onkelos’ commentary, that the phrase ben zikunim can be interpreted as ‘child of wisdom’. This means that Ya’akov passed on to Yosef the Torah that he had learnt from the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever (where he went for 22 years before going to live with Lavan - see Rashi to 28; 9). Obviously growing up in the home of Yitzchak and Avraham, Ya’akov had learnt Torah all his life, but there seems to be something unique about the Torah of Shem and Ever which enables a person to become a dreamer. Before Ya’akov’s dream the Torah tells us “he slept there”. Rashi comments that “he slept there, but for the preceding 22 years in the Yeshiva of Ever he had not slept at night”. Similarly with Yosef, two verses after stating that Ya’akov taught him the Torah of Shem and Ever we read of his dream.
However, there is a fundamental difference between the dream of Ya’akov and the dreams of Yosef. Ya’akov dreamt of the world-to-come, where G-d is perceived as ‘standing over him’. The Midrash explains the angels climbing up the ladder in terms of each nation’s ascendance to world domination, then their subsequent downfall. Yosef’s dreams, and those he interprets, all deal with the physical world, and were fulfilled in the space of a relatively few years. Ya’akov, as the last ‘patriarch’ of the Jewish nation dreamed of the history of the world, and the role of the Jews in it. Yosef dreamt of himself, and the people and nations surrounding him. Ya’akov’s dream occurred in the ‘house of G-d’, the future site of the Temple, and contained no falsehood. Yosef’s dream did not take place in such a grand location, and did contain certain elements that were not entirely true.
The Talmud (Chagiga 5b) states: G-d said, ‘Even though I have hidden My face from the world, through dreams I will communicate’. We could describe Jewish history since the destruction of the Temple as taking place in a dream. Without the Temple and prophecy we lack a direct avenue of communication with G-d. Therefore we live in the ‘night’ of a dreamworld. The first festival which commemorates exile and G-d being hidden is Purim, when the name of the heroine, Ester, means ‘hidden’. G-d’s name does not appear anywhere in the text of the Megillah, and we see throughout the story the hidden hand of G-d. However, the next historical festival, Chanukah is even more dreamlike. Not only does G-d’s name not occur, but there is no direct mention of the festival or laws in any of the books of the Bible. The story itself is hidden and confused in the strands of history.
Yet Chanukah also provides us with the light to survive the darkness of exile. With the light of the Chanukah miracle we are able to at least glimpse the path that will lead is through our dreamlike existence in exile, and show us the way to the ultimate light of the Messianic era. As a nation we must undergo the trials and tribulations of Yosef’s dreams until ultimately we arrive at the revelation of Ya’akov’s dream, when the whole world will perceive G-d standing over, and everyone will exclaim that “this is none other than the house of G-d”.

Click here for a pdf file of the d'var Torah (which can be printed)

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