Posts Tagged 'Dream'

The Other is My Brother: From Yosef’s Dreams to Freddie Gray

In VaYeshev, this week’s Torah portion, Yosef tells his brothers of his dreams to his brother. There we read:

Now Israel loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. And Yosef dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brethren; and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them: ‘Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: for, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves came round about, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ And his brethren said to him: ‘Shall you indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?’ And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said: ‘Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.’ And he told it to his father, and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said to him: ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brethren indeed come to bow down to thee to the earth?’ And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying in mind. (Gen. 37:3-11).

While they stop short of fratricide, eventually the brothers’ envy and hatred moved them to sell Yosef into slavery. Why do they hate him so much? Is it all over a coat or is there something more in these dreams?

Rabbi Riskin taught in the name of  Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt’l that the brothers’ hatred towards Yosef was a denial of the world view he expresses in his dreams. The brothers were shepherds and wanted to preserve their traditional way of life. They maintain the flocks of sheep as they are, utilizing the milk and cheese for food, the wool and skins for garments and shelter. As shepherds they had time to contemplate and to meditate upon God. In Yosef’s dream we see that he is predicting his departure from the flocks and even from the familial and sheltered land of Canaan in favor of the more scientific and sophisticated Egypt. The dreams of sheaves express the cultural revolution of agriculture over shepherding, creativity and change over the preservation of the status quo. The brothers wish to remain in their ancestral home and familial occupation; Yosef senses that the world – even the universe (sun, moon and stars) – is beckoning , and necessity demands a change of venue and profession if Israel is to prevail. They sell him into slavery in hope of preserving the world they know and stymie his dream of progress.

It is interesting to hold this up against Ta-Nehisi Coates‘s inspired book Between the World and Me. Written as a letter to his teenage son about the complexity of growing up as a black man in America, he writes:

Why exactly was I sad? I came out of the studio and walked for a while. It was a calm late-November day. Families, believing themselves white, were out on the streets. Infants, raised to be white, were bundled in strollers. And I was sad for these people, much as I was sad for the host and sad for all the people out there watching and reveling in a specious hope. I realized then why I was sad. When the journalist asked me about my body, it was like she was asking me to awaken her from the most gorgeous dream. I have seen that dream all my life. It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. And for so long I have wanted to escape into the Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option, because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies. And knowing this, knowing that the Dream persists by warring with the known world, I was sad for the host, I was sad for all those families, I was sad for my country, but above all, in that moment, I was sad for you. That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street would never be punished.

For Coates America’s status quo is a dream built upon the slavery and even the fratricide of black men. How can we call this a dream if it someone’s nightmare? As the first officer goes on trial in the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore we need to take stock of institutional racism in this country. There is no doubt that change is hard. Like Yosef’s brothers we need to be willing to give up our own dream’s of the status quo in the name of progress. Though it might take time, we need to realize that the other is my brother.

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A Sleep

Recently there was another fiasco with an advertisement campaign done by Israel regarding their relationship with Diaspora Jewry. This campaign wanted to encourage Israeli parents to get their children to return from Galut- Diaspora. There were a few out there, many have been taken down. But this one is still up.

The first image is of a lovely American suburb. Inside you see a sweet boy wearing a football jersey (and not the soccer kind). He is drawing in the foreground and his father is passed out in the background (clearly tired from making their suburban life a reality). The son calls “Daddy”. With no response he goes to where he is sleeping to call “Daddy” again. When that does not work he whispers “Abba”. Immediately the man is roused from his slumber. Words come on the screen saying that your children will always be Israelis, but their kids will not. You should help your children who left move back to Israel. The simple meaning is clear, Israelis have fallen asleep in Galut.  I fear that even the creators of this well done and horribly misguided video missed the deeper meaning of their work.

In the Talmud we learn:

Rabbi Yohanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, “A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream”( Psalms 126:1) Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I also plant these for my children. (Taanit 23a)

We all know how the Jewish Rip Van Winkle story ends. Honi goes to the mountains where the mountain forms around him and he sleeps for 70 years. When he wakes up he goes down to the valley to see the next generation benefiting from the fruit of the labor of the previous generations work in planting the carob trees.  But how did this resolve for Honi the meaning of “we were like unto them that dream”- the line that we say in Birkat HaMazon– Grace after meals. As we see in Jeremiah (25: 11 and 29:10) the original Diaspora was only to last 70 years. That explains the number of years, but, how could all of those years pass as if in a dream? What does it mean to be asleep in Galut?

We have lulled ourselves into certain comforts and we have forgotten our mission. Being Israeli has to be more than speaking Hebrew. It is clear to me that we are still inGalut even in Israel. We have found ways to lull ourselves to sleep there as well. But, it is not as simple as saying that Israelis need to return to Judaism. Judaism itself need to return to Jews.  As we have seen in recent events in Israel the religious right has lost it moorings. We need to learn to wake each other up and rise to the occasion of seeking our higher mission. How will we as Jews make and enduring contribution to the world?

If we are willing to learn from Honi, we need to be willing to sit with the question our whole lives. There is no quick fixes to these issues. We must sow the seeds today and be patient to see the fruit of this labor in future generations. To mix metaphors, we need to set the alarm now to wake us up in the future to ensure that we do not stay asleep in our Galut, where ever that might be. This dream is becoming a nightmare.


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