Parshat Vayeshev: The Dream
Rabbi Aviel and Michal Javasky are shlichim of Straus-Amiel serving as the Assistant Rabbinic Couple of the Hong Kong Jewish community
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… I have a dream… I have a dream.”
These are the opening words of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I have a Dream”. The words are a leitmotif of sorts, repeated time and time again throughout the speech. With time, King’s dream did, in fact, come true. However, beyond the question of whether a dream will ultimately be realized or not, the very act of dreaming is in itself meaningful.
Our parsha begins with the dreams of Yosef. He dreams that his brothers’ sheaves are bowing down to his own sheaf. He also dreams that the sun, moon and eleven stars are bowing down to him. The key word in the beginning of the portion is undoubtedly “dream” [chalom] – which recurs seven times in only three verses.
Yosef is not the first in his family to have dreams. Two portions earlier, in Parshat Vayetze, we read of Yaakov’s dream of a ladder reaching to the heavens, with angels descending and ascending on it. And behold God Himself is standing upon it, and then blesses Yaakov.
If so, are dreams significant? Is there a reason why dreams are given such a prominent place in the Book of Bereishit?
A closer reading of Yaakov’s dream of the ladder, along with the commentary written on these verses throughout the ages, reveals that in addition to Rashi’s well-known explanation – that the angels that ascended the ladder were those that had escorted him until he reached the border of Eretz Yisrael, while those that descended were angels that would be escorting him outside the Land – there are also other ways to interpret these verses.
One such interpretation is offered by Rabbi Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi, also known as “Manitou”, who claimed that the ladder was not simply another object depicted in the dream, but was, in fact, a product of the dream itself.
Manitou believes that Yaakov did not see a ladder or angels in a dream; rather, all of the above were products of his dream. In other words, only one who is a Dreamer, is able to connect heaven and earth. Hence, the minute Yaakov becomes a Dreamer, a connection between heaven and earth is instantly formed resulting in: “behold a ladder stood on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.”
The renowned writer and poet, Gibran Khalil, once said that one should believe in dreams for in them is concealed the door to eternity.
Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Friedman, author of Chayei Shlomo, writes in his book that the ladder which stood upon the ground symbolizes the need to begin any process while standing ‘on the ground’. In other words, only when one is firmly rooted, can one aspire to reach the heavens. One must first be connected to reality, to people; only then can one be a visionary, a dreamer, and ascend upwards. One must therefore be cautious not to ascend too quickly without making sure there is a firm foundation on the ground. For the higher the ladder, the firmer its base footing must be.
The fact that we live in a rational world might make us repress our dreams or even scoff at them. Moreover, our very busy daily routine doesn’t always leave much room for dreaming, or envisioning a better reality. However, dreams come to express man’s deeper essence. Often times our dreams teach us much about ourselves and the people we want to be. As such, dreams should not be taken lightly; in fact, the Torah invites us to examine them and learn from them. Much like Yaakov’s dream expresses the ambition to connect between heaven and earth, God and man, the spiritual and the mundane – so, too, the dreams of all people express their deepest hopes and desires.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, describes dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”. In other words, dreams are the gateway to the subconscious of the human mind. In his writings, Freud describes how his patients’ dreams are a form of confrontation with the traumas experienced by them during their lifetime. Freud talks of dreams as of one’s deepest inherent desires. When we are asleep, our defense mechanisms are down, and content that would otherwise be blocked out during times of wakefulness, rises to the surface and is given expression through dreams. Thus, Freud concluded that dreams are a window into those concealed parts of the human soul.
Dreams also have the power to break through boundaries and penetrate spheres that are otherwise concealed. Rav Kook describes dreams as “defying reality, heedless of its borders”. In his view, since dreams are free of the boundaries of reality, they can actually show us the unobscured reality to which we aspire. For two thousand years we dreamed of our return to Zion, despite the fact that the limitations imposed upon us by reality made it seem impossible – ” When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like those who dream.” In much the same way, we, too, must free ourselves of the limitations of the physical world and allow ourselves to dream of a future filled with hope.
Manitou tells a story of one Tzaddik who asks one of his chassidim what he lives on. The chassid replies that he buys flour, adds to it some water and yeast, kneads it into dough, turns it into bread, sells the bread and uses the money to buy more flour. When the Tzaddik hears this, he says: “I did not ask you how you spend your time. I asked you what you live on!” The chassid once again renders a description of his livelihood. The Tzaddik then realizes that he would have to rephrase his question because the chassid was clearly missing the point: “I was not asking what you live on, but what keeps you alive! What is the thing that gives meaning to your life? What do you dream of?”
Sometimes we are inclined to think that we depend on our livelihood to stay alive, and on the food that we eat. However, we forget that these only sustain the physical dimensions of life. The bigger question is – of what do we dream? What gives meaning to our life? What are our ambitions for ourselves and for the world?
When one embarks on emissary work, shlichut, one has big dreams. But pretty quickly we fall into routine and the dreams get pushed aside. It is important that we remind ourselves, throughout the shlichut, of our dreams, our ambitions, our aspirations. The more we dream, the more meaningful will our emissary work be, and our very lives as well.
The Jewish community of Hong Kong is a diverse one. It is comprised of people from all over the world: England, France, the United States, Israel, Australia, Mexico, Spain and many other countries.
Hong Kong is a warm and close-knit community, which embraces all individuals and takes care of everybody. Most Jews live in the vicinity of the synagogue and the Jewish Community Center. The members of the community frequently host other families for Shabbat meals and go together on family outings on Sundays and holidays.