Dream. Interpret. Create. Repeat.
We are all born with a sense that our lives are supposed to make a difference. As kids, we imagine ourselves in moments of adventure and greatness, moments of nobility and heroism, moments of challenge and success. Many of us were told to dream big and that we can be anything if we put our minds to it. Yet so many times in life we find ourselves missing the mark or falling short. Many of our dreams are broken, shattered by the weight of
the world. Our eyes cast downward at closer, more achievable horizons. As the old Yiddish phrase says, “we plan and God laughs.”
The greatest danger of being a dreamer is believing that your dreams are strictly your own. You are part of a cycle of dreams that emerges from the past and pushes you into the future. You are shaped by the dreams of people who created the reality in which you live and a shaper of dreams for future generations. You are both created and a creator, a work of art and an artist at work. The dream cycle doesn’t begin in this moment, but is only realized in this moment. Each of us is a time machine, anchored both in the past and in the future, by the dreams of others and our own visions, but it is what we do with this moment and the life we create out of that dreamscape that matters most. So when you interpret your dreams by forgetting the place from which you come, you fall into the trap thinking your life is only about you. You will always fall short of the life you dreamed of if you dream only for yourself.
This is where the Torah leaves us from last week’s reading. Joseph, the stalwart dreamer, believes confidently that he is on top of the world. Yet when he shares his dreams with his family, the anger grows in their hearts. That is because Joseph only dreams for himself, forgetting the dreams of others. He falls into pit after pit, ending. up in Egypt in a prison, with no name, and no one to call him friend. (Gen. 39:20)
That is where we find Joseph as we open this week’s Torah portion, Miketz. It is at this moment, when Joseph’s dreams are dashed and he sits in the dark, that a second dynamic emerges. For the first time, Joseph realizes that the dreams of other people are as important as his own dreams. Instead of using his prophetic gift to interpret and feed his own ambition, he begins to shift his thinking by helping others to pursue their own dreams. Joseph sees beyond himself, he realizes that all of us are enmeshed in a cycle of dreams. He begins to let go of his own future and pours his energy into other people. By losing, he begins to win. Instead of making plans, he laughs along with God.
Now, after two years in prison, he is finally remembered. He is called to Pharaoh’s side to interpret Pharaoh’s dream for the future of Egypt. (41:1) Joseph saves the world from starvation, by interpreting those dreams and creating a world out of them. The rabbis call him a tzadik, or a righteous person because he came to the understanding that by helping others, even strangers, he himself is helped. When we embed our dreams into the dreams of others we can work together to collective make all our dreams come true.
By the time Joseph dies, he’s attained the very thing he dreamed of as a child. He is free and he is powerful, he reconciles with his father and brothers. He saves their lives and the lives of all of Egypt from famine. He has a beautiful family and his posterity seems secured. As the Book of Genesis closes, the redemption of Joseph carries the same redemptive impulse in all of us. When you dream not only for yourself, but with other people, you
re-enter the dream cycle to redeem the world and to create the future you can only imagine.