Vayeshev- Living the Dream

Our סדרה opens by telling us of the dreams that Yaakov’s son Yosef has, and the other sons’ reactions. Yosef first dreams of 11 sheaves of wheat bowing down to him, not earning him any brownie points with his brothers who correctly guess that they are the eleven sheaves of which Yosef dreamed would bow to him. Things take a turn for the worse when Yosef tells of his second dream, where 11 stars, the sun and the moon bow down to him. The brothers are again upset- they were definitely not happy to hear of another dream, whether prophetic or not, where Yosef imagined everyone bowing down to him. Yaakov joins the brothers in telling off Yosef, but for different reasons.  He reprimands Yosef on the “chutzpah” of foretelling that his mother Rachel, assumed to be represented by the moon, could bow down to him, as  she was no longer alive. Yaakov tells Yosef…. Yaakov tells Yosef to stop speaking of his dreams and making the others jealous, because, clearly they could not come true.

Ramban makes a very interesting observation on Yaakov’s response. He writes that Yaakov’s claim that Yosef’s dreams couldn’t come true because they couldn’t happen was itself not true, because our patriarch’s interpretation of his son’s dream was faulty. Ramban explains that the sun and moon were not Yaakov and Rachel (as Yaakov thought), or even Yaakov and Bilha (as Rashi believed), but rather referred to the  times that the brothers would bow down to Yosef in Yaakov’s presence, whereas the stars themselves are when the brothers bowed down to Yosef before Yaakov came down to Egypt. In other words, Yosef’s dream was 100% true. Unfortunately, since Yaakov made such a serious error in interpreting Yosef’s dream, he rejected the dream in its entirety instead of considering alternative ways that it could in fact be true.

There is an important lesson in Yaakov’s reaction to and treatment of Yosef’s impossible dream. When one has a dream, especially a very hopeful if unrealistic one, it is often easy to dismiss it, and say it could never happen. But, G-d works in mysterious ways, and just as Yosef rose to power in Egypt and a chain of events led to his brothers’ unbeknownst bowing to him, any dream, no matter how unrealistic, can come true, even if it not necessarily how we expect it to.

A little bit further on in the סדרה, Yaakov’s sons plan to kill Yosef as they see him approaching them in the field, saying:

וְעַתָּה לְכוּ וְנַהַרְגֵהוּ וְנַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בְּאַחַד הַבֹּרוֹת וְאָמַרְנוּ חַיָּה רָעָה אֲכָלָתְהוּ וְנִרְאֶה מַה־יִּהְיוּ חֲלֹמֹתָיו

And now, let us go and kill him and toss him in one of the pits, and say that a wild animal ate him, and we’ll see what will come of his dreams. (שם לז:כ)

The brothers’ reason for killing Yosef sounds derisive and almost cruel- I, personally, can easily imagine them planning together, ending their plotting sessions by saying “let’s see what his dreams will do for him now…” and laughing an evil laugh together. This interpretation is shared by most of the מפרשים- the brothers, before killing him, asked what good his dreams will do in death. However, Ramban once again takes a completely different perspective on these words:

ונראה מה יהיו חלמתיו – מליצה דרך לעג, נראה אחרי מותו אם נשתחוה לו. והנכון בעיני כי אמרו עתה נראה מה יהיו חלומותיו, כי אם יצילוהו מידינו מלוך ימלוך עלינו…

And we’ll see what will come of his dreams- … and it appears to me that when they said this, they meant- we’ll see if Yosef’s dreams were true or not, for if he will be saved from our hands, then he truly could rule over us… (רמב”ן שם)

Ramban claims that the brothers were not speaking out of spite or derision when they said “ונראה מה יהיו חלמתיו”- rather, their attempted fratricide was a test. If Yosef would survive the attempt on his life, and rise to a place where his brothers would bow down to him, then the dreams were truly G-d’s will. However, short of this test, there was no need to help advance Yosef’s dream- it would happen if it were meant to happen.

So, from our סדרה, we’ve seen two different types of reactions to unrealistic unpopular dreams. There’s the “Yaakov” approach, where the dreamer is shunned and told how, since the dream is not possible, he should stop thinking about his vision and stop dreaming. Then, there’s the “Brothers” approach, where every attempt is made to stop the dream, for if it’s meant to come true, it’ll happen even without our active involvement. We know that Yosef’s dreams were in fact prophetic and did come true, so in the context of our סדרה, this isn’t such a practical discussion for us- after all, hindsight is always 20-20. However, there is another dream, more relevant to our time, where I believe the same positions are being taken as in Parshat Vayeshev.

In the early twentieth Century, with the advent of anti-Semitism in Europe, journalist Theodor Herzl realized that an answer was needed for the Jewish People, to save them from Hitler and his Final Solution. He had a dream, of a Jewish state in the British Mandate of Palestine, where Jews could rule over one another and protect themselves from their enemies. Herzl’s movement gained momentum in the secular, enlightened Jewish population of Europe, but unfortunately it didn’t gain much traction among the religious Jews.

When Herzl approached the גדולים of Europe, they rejected his dream of a secular and religious Jewish State in Israel, which could signal the beginning of the גאולה. Many of them took the “Yaakov” approach, and said that it would be impossible for the redemption to come from a state that included secular Jews. They called on Herzl to stop dreaming and stop speaking about his dream, for it could never come true and was distracting religious Jews from their עבודת השם. Others took the “Brothers” approach, and had such a high level of disbelief in Herzl’s dream that they actively tried to stop him from gaining support, ruining his image to sabotage his movement (and, as חז”ל famous said, killing a man’s reputation is akin to killing the man himself- these גדולים very much threw Herzl into a pit to try to kill him).

But, it was Herzl who famously said: “אם תרצו אין זו אגדה,” which we can loosely translate as “if you truly will it, it will not be a dream.” Thanks to the concerted efforts of many European Jews, Herzl’s dream because a reality and almost 70 years after the founding of the state of Israel, the מדינה has grown to a point where it is able to support both a secular and religious population, and all signs are pointing to the fact that Israel is the אתחלתא דגאולה. Many רבנים who once were in the “Yaakov” or “Brothers” camp, have since seen the error of their ways and switched over to supporting the ever-growing גאולה, and those who remain will surely see that they are incorrect and change their views.

David Hamelech wrote in Tehilim: “שיר המעלות בשוב ה’ את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים- … when G-d will return the settlement of Zion, we will be like dreamers.” When we return home to Eretz Yisrael, it will feel so unreal that we will think we are dreaming- but it won’t be a dream; it will happen and it will be real. With Hashem’s help, we will see all Jews recognizing how real this dream is and embracing it, so that we will merit the complete גאולה very very soon. Shabbat Shalom.