Tag Archives: dreams

Mikeitz: Dreams and Nightmares

dreams-and-prisonThese concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Mikeitz, which focuses on the release of Yosef from prison. Yosef serves as an analogy for the entire Jewish people. For the name Yosef, meaning “increase,” refers to an infinite and unbounded potential for growth, (See Toras Chayim, Bereishis, 87b.) i.e., the soul we all possess, which is “an actual part of G-d from above.” (Tanya, ch. 2.)

Moreover, the prayer Rachel recited when naming Yosef, (Genesis 30:24.) “May G-d add on (yosef) to me another son (ben acher),” reflects the spiritual mission of the Jewish people. Entities which have hitherto been acher (“other” estranged from their G-dly core) are brought close and manifest the intimacy of ben (“a son”).(See Or HaTorah, Vayeitzei, p. 202a.)

The prison in which Yosef is held refers to the body, and to material existence as a whole. These tend to confine the infinite power of the soul and deny it expression. Although G-d gave man His Torah, His will and wisdom, (Tanya, ch. 4.) the Torah is also affected by the limits of material existence, and its G-dly source is not always evident.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
“An End And A Beginning”
Commentary on Torah Portion Mikeitz
Chabad.org

Again, I can only relate to Chassidic mysticism in terms of its power to paint metaphorical pictures. We all exist in some sort of prison which seemingly prevents us from flying free. It could be an emotional restraint, a physical ailment, a spiritual lacking, anything, really. Sometimes God sends us on a quest in search of who we are and in the midst of it, we feel discouraged and uncertain. Have we taken the correct turn? Are we on the right trail? Should we turn back and start again? What if it doesn’t matter?

Yet Joseph the slave and Joseph the prisoner shows us that regardless of our environment and circumstances, and sometimes because of it, we can always be who God has created us to be. Then again, it sometimes takes someone like Joseph to teach us that lesson.

Once, when Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch, the son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, was a young man, he was visiting with his father-in-law in Yanovitch. There he met with one of his father’s chassidim. The chassid noticed that the young ‘rebbe’s son’ was all too aware of his achievements in scholarship and meditative prayer and felt that some cutting down to size was in order.

Said the chassid to Rabbi DovBer: “Considering who you are and how you’ve lived, what’s the big deal? Your father – well, we all know who your father is. You were certainly conceived under the holiest of circumstances, and I’m sure that your father secured a most lofty soul to bring down into the world. Then you were raised in a rebbe’s home and great care was taken to mold your character and safeguard you from any negative influences. All your life you’ve been exposed to scholarship and sanctity and to this very day you’re preoccupied only with the study of Torah and the teachings of chassidism. So you’ve amassed a certain amount of knowledge and you pray with fervor and devotion. Big deal.

“Now, take me for example. My father was a simple man, and we can well imagine what was on his mind when he scraped out some dreg of a soul out the bottom of the barrel. My upbringing? I was raised as a goat and basically left to my own devices. And do you know what I do with my life? Let me tell you how I earn my living. I loan money to the peasants during the planting season and then, during the winter months, I make my rounds of their villages and farms to collect the debts before they have a chance to squander their entire harvest on vodka. This means setting out several hours before sunrise, well before the permissible time for prayer, equipped with a flask – for without a drink one cannot begin to talk business with a peasant. After drinking to his health, one must share a ‘l’chayim’ with the woman in the house as well – otherwise she can ruin the whole deal for you. Only then can you sit down to settle part of the account.

the_chassid“After three or four such stops I make my way home, immerse myself in the mikveh and prepare for prayer. But after such preliminaries, what sort of prayer would you expect…?”

The words of this chassid, who was, in truth, renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers, made a deep impression on Rabbi DovBer. The young man immediately travelled home to his father and poured out his heart. He bewailed his spiritual state, saying that his service of G-d is worthless, falling so short of what is expected from him.

The next time the chassid from Yanovitch came to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the Rebbe said to him: “I am most grateful to you – you have made a chassid out of my Berel.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Rebbe’s Son and the Chassid”
Commentary on Torah Portion Mikeitz
Chabad.org

In this tale, we see a reversal of what you might expect. The Rebbe’s son, who had every material and spiritual advantage, was basically a talented but spoiled brat. Something like who Joseph was as a teen prior to being assaulted by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and then sold into slavery (see Genesis 37). The Chassid, on the other hand, had virtually no advantages and lived a difficult life among rough and uncultured people, and yet he was “renowned for his refined nature and soulful prayers,” perhaps because of the lessons he was taught by such a life.

We see a dramatic change in Joseph’s attitude and behavior once he becomes a slave and continuing on during his imprisonment. He could have dissolved into despair, surrendered to the advances of Potiphar’s wife, and disappeared from the realm of spirituality altogether, but instead, he chose a different path. One that ultimately lead from the lowliest of positions to the exalted heights of both material and spiritual wealth.

The Rebbe thanks the Chassid from Yanovitch for making “a chassid out of my Berel.” How much more did slavery and imprisonment make a “chassid” out of Joseph…and what can it do for us?

In truth, there is no need to change the world, but only to illuminate it. For each thing has a place, and in that place it is good.

There is only one problem: It is dark. In the dark, there is no way to find the place for each thing. No way to know what belongs in your closet, ready for use, and what belongs in the laundry, waiting to be cleaned. And so, that which could be washed and used for good is despised as hateful, and that which is wholly good is used for evil.

Torah is light: it tells us the place of each thing. Shine it bright, and heal the world.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Illumination”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

in-the-darkThis, of course, is not easy because as the esteemed Rabbi says, it is “dark.” We can’t see a thing. While we may know that we are to illuminate our world, imagine coming to that realization if you are Joseph in slavery or Joseph in prison. How is this to be done? You have no hope. You will never see your family again. You will never see your home again. You will forever be trapped in a foreign land among strangers. Even if you adapt, seem to fit in, learn to walk among them, you will never truly be one of them. Should you even try?

Make an effort to do the actions you fear to do and by this means lessen those fears. Think of a specific fear that stops you from doing something that would be beneficial for you to do, and take action.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #667, Act On Your Fears”
Aish.com

You can cower and hide, imprisoned by your nightmares…or you can rise up from the darkness and live your dreams in the light.

Happy Chanukah and Good Shabbos.

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Blessings at Night and Morning

A song of ascents. Praiseworthy is each person who fears HASHEM, who walks in His paths. When you eat the labor of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home; your children shall be like olive shoots surrounding your table. Behold! For so is blessed the man who fears HASHEM. May HASHEM bless you from Zion, and may you gaze upon the goodness of Jerusalem, all the days of your life. And may you see children born to children, peace upon Israel.

Tremble and sin not. Reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Master of the universe. Who reigned before any form was created,
At the time when His will brought all into being —
then as “King” was His Name proclaimed.
After all has ceased to be, He, the Awesome One, will reign alone.
It is He Who was, He Who is, and He Who shall remain, in splendor.
He is One — there is no second to compare to Him, to declare as His equal.
Without beginning, without conclusion — His is the power and dominion.
He is my God, my living Redeemer, Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me, the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-Portion of the Bedtime Shema

My father said that the reciting of sh’ma before retiring at night (p. 118-124) is, in miniature form, like the Confession before death. But then one leaves the marketplace permanently, and the commerce of “Today to perform them” is finished. With the Bedside Sh’ma every night, however, one is still in the middle of the “market” and can still accomplish and achieve.

“Today’s Day”
Friday, Kislev 6, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

It is said in Jewish wisdom that one should repent one day before his death. But how can you know when the day of your death will come? You can’t. Therefore repent every day as if it is your last day of life.

I sometimes have bouts of insomnia for a variety of reasons. As I write this though, I slept very well last night. In fact, I recall that I was engaged in a rather compelling dream when the alarm went off, jarring me into consciousness.

But the night before, just prior to retiring, I recited the portion of the Bedtime Shema I quoted above. I can’t necessarily credit the Bedtime Shema with my restful sleep, but I suppose it didn’t hurt. On the other hand, you’d think, given recent events, that I’d have a lot on my mind.

And so I do, but that apparently didn’t disturb my sleep.

I also recite the Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning. Even if I do not offer God any other prayers during the day, considering Him, even for a few moments as I end my day and again as I start the next one acts like “bookends,” with God on either side of my waking experience and me existing in the middle.

But what about the middle? That’s where we spend our lives or at least the conscious portion of them. It’s where we “feel” we’re alive, it’s where we are aware of being alive. What do we do with that time?

Lots of things. Many of us have jobs where we do our work and earn our pay. Sometimes our thoughts turn to God, but most of the time we are too distracted with our work to consciously consider Him. While a tzaddik, a righteous person, is constantly aware of God, most of us aren’t. Most of us struggle to remind ourselves of God, except at certain times such as when we need God or during a scheduled time of prayer or worship.

Fortunately, God doesn’t need anything to remind Him of us. One of the blessings He gave the Jewish people, and I wish Christianity would adopt such a practice, are set times for prayer. Muslims also have set times to turn away from their common activities and to turn toward God. We in the church tend to just “wing it,” which isn’t necessarily bad, because we should all be free to pray at any moment, but it isn’t necessarily good because we typically ignore God until something comes along to remind us of Him.

Imagine if we handled our human relationships that way. Imagine that we ignored our spouse, our children, our parents, until some external factor came along to remind us of their existence and that we needed something from them. I guess some of us do handle our human relationships that way. More’s the pity. But then, what is the state of those relationships? If you ignore someone long enough, they will eventually ignore you, too.

Pain, loneliness, fear, anxiety, the spectre of death all remind us of God and how much we need Him. While we shouldn’t wait for those reminders, being human, we often do. The troubles in our lives act as God’s messengers, coming to us and telling us we shouldn’t wait too much longer. Why wait for pain or fear to tell you that God is waiting for you?

And may Heaven help us all if even then, we still ignore God.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Kislev 14”
Aish.com

When I go to sleep — and I shall awaken! With my spirit shall my body remain. HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

God allows us to awaken at the proper time, feeds us when we are hungry, gives us rest when we are tired. He is waiting for us now to do something. Tomorrow is too late.

36 Days: Backing Away from the High Dive

For the most part they were willing to support the state and to partake of the cultural bounty of the Hellenistic world, but they were unwilling to surrender their identity. They wished to “belong” but at the same time to remain distinct.

Shaye J.D. Cohen
Chapter 2: Jews and Gentiles
Social: Jews and Gentiles, pg 37
from the book
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd Ed

This statement of Cohen’s describing the early diaspora Jews who were living in Greek society also reminds me of some halachically, ethnically, and cultural Jews who have come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and who “belong” to the “body of believers,” “but at the same time (wish) to remain distinct” as Jews. Not an easy task, considering how both mainstream Christianity and the Christian Hebrew Roots offshoot movement want to “equalize” the Jews by making them like the rest of the Gentile community (in the former case, by making all Jews give up their Jewish religious and cultural practices, and in the latter case, by requiring all Gentiles take up Jewish religious and cultural practices).

But that’s not the main thing I want to talk about right now.

I had a most interesting dream last night. It went something like this:

I was sitting in a chair in some sort of waiting area at church with a bunch of other people. I think we were waiting to get into the Sanctuary so services could begin. I was looking through a notebook where I was trying to sort out some sort of theological puzzle. I had lots of notes written in pencil from the day before. I thought I had pretty well figured out what the answer was, but a fellow who knew what I was working on said I got it all wrong. I tried to explain my point of view, but I couldn’t find the right words.

As we were talking, another man approached me. I was still sitting down and had to look up at him. He wanted to invite me to a different Sunday school class than the one I had been attending and asked if I had a “Jesus of Nazareth Bible,” whatever that is. I looked in my right hand and was embarrassed to discover that I was holding the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern, which I knew would never be accepted in a traditional Christian Bible study (and I thought I had given up Stern’s works many years ago).

The book was filled with a lot of loose pieces of paper that contained many of my notes. I guess it was good enough for him (though he seemed displeased), because the man told me to stand up and follow him. I looked down and discovered I was barefoot. By my feet were a pair of socks and the sandals I use to put something on my feet when I want to step out on my back patio for a few minutes (not exactly appropriate for church).

That’s when I woke up. My daughter has to be at work at 5 a.m. on Sundays, so I have to get up fairly early to drive her there.

That’s also when I knew I wouldn’t go to church today. It’s been a really active holiday week and weekend and I feel like I need just a little bit of space for a while.

But I can’t go back to sleep and I’m too tired to do much else, so I decided to write. I haven’t actually written anything for days since my family has been visiting, so I feel a little like an animal that has spent too much time in a cramped kennel. The gate has been opened and I’m able to run around in the park again. Feels good, but I wish my brain wasn’t full of cotton candy and iron filings.

In order to maintain their distinctiveness and identity, most Jews of the ancient world sought to separate themselves from their gentile neighbors. In the cities of the East, they formed their own autonomous ethnic communities, each with its own officers, institutions, and regulations. Some cities, notably Alexandria and Rome, had neighborhoods inhabited mostly by Jews. (These were not “ghettos” but “ethnic neighborhoods.”) Following the lead of Ezra, the Jews of the Second Temple period grew more and more intolerant of marriages with foreigners.

-Cohen, “Social: Jews and Gentiles”

I’ve written before that I’ve suspected the schism between Christianity and Judaism occurred fairly early, perhaps within a hundred years or less of the beginning of Paul’s “mission to the Gentiles.” But my opinion has been rudely ridiculed by members of the Hebrew Roots movement who are heavily invested in the notion that early Gentile and Jewish “Christians” were completely equal and uniform members of a single religious movement following Jesus of Nazareth, with the Gentiles adopting all of the Jewish cultural and religious practices.

But according to Cohen, particularly the Jews in the diaspora (where Paul was doing much of his work bringing the good news of the Messiah to the Gentiles) were still strongly driven to maintain their ethnic, cultural, and national identity as Jews. Thus, even the Jews who were involved in that early sect of Judaism called “the Way” were unlikely to surrender their unique identity to a non-Jewish population. In fact, the problem of how to integrate the non-Jewish people groups into a Jewish movement must have seemed an almost insurmountable task, both for the leaders of the Way (the Jerusalem Council) and for the Gentiles who were attracted to this form of Judaism. This is probably why the Acts 15 letter limited the requirements of Gentile disciples to just a few of the mitzvot.

The response of the Gentiles receiving the letter confirms that they neither needed or wanted to actually convert to Judaism (although there was an effort among other Jews to convert Gentiles to Judaism) and were overjoyed to become disciples of “the Christ” without having to be Jewish.

So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words.

Acts 15:30-32 (ESV)

Cohen comments that Judaism wasn’t something that was thought to be easily accessed, and that even the Gentiles respected its exclusiveness:

Even those Greeks and Romans who despised Judaism respected its exclusiveness as an ancestral usage that the Jews themselves were not free to change.

Immediately following the above-quoted sentence, Cohen makes a statement that seems to also confirm those Christians (non-Jewish followers of the Way) who adopted some of the Jewish practices were treated remarkably different by the Roman authorities than their Jewish counterparts.

The Christians, too, were accused of atheism, and since they could not defend their refusal by appeal to ancestral custom, they were persecuted.

I want to write more about what all this means in terms of Jewish and Christian relationships today, especially relative to Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots, but my main emphasis for this “meditation” is my own issues in “integration,” specifically into the church.

While my parents were visiting for Thanksgiving, my mother and I talked about this issue (she’s been trying to encourage me in going to church). She mentioned that she had been born and raised in a Lutheran family and for most of her life, she didn’t really think much about what that meant. She worshiped as a Lutheran because that’s what she had always done. She married and raised two sons as a devout Lutheran, but even after we grew up and left home, and even after she and my Dad retired and relocated to Utah, she still didn’t think much about what being a Lutheran meant.

Then, when my Dad and Mom moved to Kanab and they had to look for a church (not too many Lutherans in that part of Southwestern Utah), she got involved in different groups and started to study the Bible and consider what her faith meant, particularly in the area of religious community. The same thing happened as they got older and moved from Kanab to St. George. Mom and Dad had to visit a number of churches and attend just about every service and activity the church had to begin to discover if they “fit in.” In part, through that process, their faith and understanding grew. To become part of something, you have to dive in all the way and only when you’re drowning in it, do you find out if you are part of it and it is part of you.

Unlike the Jewish people of ancient or modern times, I don’t have a distinct cultural, ethnic, and faith identity that defines who I am in terms of God. But church is a culture and an identity and to belong to church, that’s an identity I have to adopt. To adopt it, I have to be part of it in every sense of the word, not just popping in for a few hours on Sunday morning.

Frankly, I hate the idea, primarily because I hate having to change my behavior patterns that much. Like most people, I’m a creature of habit. I go to work at the same time each morning and I come home at the same time each evening. I have my routine and my comfortable activities. Being part of a community, especially if you’re trying to “break in,” means changing all that; it means change.

I hate change.

But what happens if I don’t change?

Spiritual slumps are a natural part of spiritual growth. There is a cycle that people go through when at times they feel closer to God and at times more distant. In the words of the Kabbalists, it is “two steps forward and one step back.” So although you feel you are slipping, know that this is a natural process. The main thing is to look at your overall progress (over months or years) and be able to see how far you’ve come!

This is actually God’s ingenious way of motivating us further. The sages compare this to teaching a baby how to walk. When the parent is holding on, the baby shrieks with delight and is under the illusion that he knows how to walk. Yet suddenly, when the parent lets go, the child panics, wobbles and may even fall.

At such times when we feel spiritually “down,” that is often because God is letting go, giving us the great gift of independence. In some ways, these are the times when we can actually grow the most. For if we can move ourselves just a little bit forward, we truly acquire a level of sanctity that is ours forever.

Here is a practical tool to help pull you out of the doldrums. The Sefer HaChinuch speaks about a great principle in spiritual growth: “The external awakens the internal.” This means that although we may not experience immediate feelings of closeness to God, eventually, by continuing to conduct ourselves in such a manner, this physical behavior will have an impact on our spiritual selves and will help us succeed. (A similar idea is discussed by psychologists who say: “Smile and you will feel happy.”)

That is the power of Torah commandments. Even if we may not feel like giving charity or praying at this particular moment, by having a “mitzvah” obligation to do so, we are in a framework to become inspired. At that point we can infuse that act of charity or prayer with all the meaning and lift it can provide. But if we’d wait until being inspired, we might be waiting a very long time.

“Spiritual Slump”
Ask the Rabbi
Aish.com

stop-timeThis metaphor doesn’t completely apply to me since I’m not Jewish and don’t have the same spiritual relationship to the Torah as a Jew. One of the things I regret about Christianity is that is eliminated the structure of the mitzvot for the “freedom” of grace. More’s the pity.

Part of me wants the next five weeks or so to zip by so that January 1st will roll around and I can completely and finally spiritually “slump,” thus avoiding change altogether. Then I just pull the plug on most of my Internet presence, step out of the blogosphere, and then what happens to me is between me and God, with no accountability to or commentary by other human beings (and no one in the family is going to care if I go to church or not apart from my Mom).

However, as I’ve been reminded, self-improvement seems to be an expectation of God.

The Chazon Ish (20th century Israel) described the level a person is potentially capable of attaining if he has a long term goal for self-improvement: “If a person constantly strives to improve his character traits, it is possible he will eventually reach a level that he no longer gets angry, will not feel hatred or resentment, will not take revenge nor bear a grudge, will not have ambitions of seeking honor, and will not desire mundane pleasures.”

Today, view every person you find difficult as your partner in character development. View every encounter as an opportunity to develop your positive qualities.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Our Potential for Self-Improvement”
Daily Lift #645
Aish.com

I keep wondering if Jewish philosophy can ever be applied to a Christian, but a recent blog post quoting Max Lucado reminded me why I prefer Jewish writings over Christian commentaries:

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it.

If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it.

He sends you flowers every spring.

He sends you a sunrise every morning.

Face it, friend – He is crazy about you!

God didn’t promise days without pain, laughter without sorrow, sun without rain; but He did promise strength for the day, comfort for the tears, and light for the way.

I’m sure Lucado is a wonderful human being, but reading his stuff for more than a few seconds gives me the same type of headache I get between my eyes as the last time I swallowed a mouthful of cotton candy.

I’m taking the day off of church. I think I’ll even take a nap now since the sky is finally getting lighter and I woke up at around 3:30 a.m. (It’s coming up on eight as I write this)

I much prefer Jewish teachings and wisdom, but Judaism isn’t my identity. As a disciple of Jesus, I’m considered a Christian, but so far, the thought of jumping into the deep end of the “church swimming pool” doesn’t seem appealing. I’ll sleep on it, read the church bulletin online later on today, and see if there’s some sort of class or activity I can take a dip into later on in the week.

Maybe.

The Sufficient Summit

Today’s amud discusses one who saw a dream and was unsure what it means.

When Rav Raphael of Barshad first began to search for the ideal way to serve Hashem, he heard that learning the Zohar Hakadosh was a great segulah for attaining fear of heaven. He began learning a great deal of Zohar but when he reached towards the end of the Zohar Chadash, he was dismayed. The Zohar warns there against being like Bilaam, who was a complete fool despite his great knowledge of serving Hashem.

Rav Raphael said to himself, “If one can know so much and still be a fool, perhaps I should focus instead on the Shulchan Aruch so that my study will bring me to action.”

He started learning the Shulchan Aruch in depth, but when he got to Orach Chaim #231, “All of one’s acts should be for the sake of heaven,” he again felt that something was missing.

“Are all of my actions really l’shem shomayim? Perhaps I should spend more time on mussar?” Rav Rafael therefore added study of the Shelah HaKadosh to his schedule.

He was so immersed in the Shelah that he would learn it at every opportunity. But after a while he again felt as if something was missing. So he traveled to the famous Rav Pinchas of Koretz for advice.

Rav Rafael poured out his heart. “I want to serve Hashem in truth, but everything I have tried has been insufficient!” He was so distressed that he actually fainted.

When he came to, Rav Pinchas said, “If you stay with me, you will come to truth.”

Three years later, Rav Rafael dreamed that he was playing cards. Although his hand started out with black cards, they all turned white in the end. When he shared his dream with Rav Pinchas, he was given a positive interpretation.

“When you first came to me, you were blackened with worry and chumros, and this prevented you from serving Hashem in truth. But now you are white with virtue and purity!”

Mishnah Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“Magnificient Dream”
Siman 130 Seif 1

This sequence of events reminds me of Joseph’s gift of dream interpretation which we’ve recently read about in Genesis 40:5-23 and particularly in Genesis 41:1-32. In both instances, the interpretation of dreams changed the course of people’s lives. When Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh, King of Egypt, the ultimate result was that Joseph was transformed from prisoner to ruler, the civilized world was saved from starvation, and the Children of Israel were gathered to Goshen in Egypt to sojourn in peace…and after Joseph’s death, to become slaves.

But what does the dream of Rav Raphael of Barshad tell us? Even the interpretation of Rav Pinchas of Koretz does not reveal exactly why Rav Raphael went from being “blackened” to “white with virtue and purity”. Was there something wrong with what he was studying or was he just studying too much? Some Christians might use this parable to say that the Jews in general study too much outside the realm of the Bible and that all we need is the Holy Spirit and the Gospels to guide us. However, if that’s true, then why do Christians study the Bible at all? If true, then why is there such a vast body of Christian Biblical scholarship available? Maybe it’s not the studying at all, as we’re about to discover.

Yesterday, I wrote a very short and simple meditation called God is in the Backyard. Not that God is literally hanging out beside the flower bed or the swing set, but that He is near at hand to all who call upon him.

The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cry and saves them. –Psalm 145:18-19

By using the quotes above, I’m not disdaining serious study. Quite the opposite. I advocate a life of peering into the Word as well as the wisdom of the Sages in order to gain a clearer glimpse of the glory of God. In a sense, that was the goal of Moses as well. Moses, more than anything, wanted a greater understanding of God (according to the Sages, he didn’t literally want to see God’s face) and God granted Moses as much as a human being could comprehend.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” –Exodus 33:18-23

Studying is one way we get to know God better. It’s not a perfect way, as Rav Raphael discovered. Sometimes study can take on a life of its own and is unknowingly substituted for the target at which we are aiming. Rav Raphael was afraid he was missing out. He tried to create a comprehensive lifestyle of study that would “cover all the bases” but he was never satisfied. Rav Pinchas showed him that there is more to our desire to know God than can be found in study (though the parable does not say exactly what transpired between Rav Raphael and Rav Pinchas during the three years described). Perhaps it wasn’t the course of study at all but Rav Raphael’s worry and anxiety over not being sufficient. Maybe his course of study never changed, but his attitude toward it (and toward God) did.

We are all insufficient in our relationship to God. Not that we shouldn’t continue striving for greater closeness, but we must come to accept that our own efforts will never be enough to close the gap. For some, this is an excuse to stop trying and to let God do all the work. For others, it is the motivation to try and obey God “just right”, as if the commandments in the Bible were some sort of checklist, but that may be what caused Rav Raphael’s problem in the first place (and if so, Rav Raphael had the wisdom to realize this wasn’t working). Neither approach is the true answer. The answer I believe Rav Raphael discovered was to let his effort be his effort and to let God be God. Release the anxiety surrounding whether or not you are doing enough or doing it just right, and just do what you can do. How can we feel the joy of a relationship with God if we are constantly fretting over all the tiny details? I believe in seeking His joy, we will sail to ever greater heights, though I doubt we’ll recognize it until after we’ve arrived.

We all struggle as we climb a difficult trail but the reward of reaching the summit, as we will someday, is worth the cost. However during the effort of the journey, there are rewards enough as well if we take the time to look for them. Let every day be the summit and the reward in reaching the final destination will take care of itself. Another way of saying it is Dayenu.

Miketz: Dreams and Consequences

Joseph’s imprisonment finally ends when Pharaoh dreams of seven fat cows that are swallowed up by seven lean cows, and of seven fat ears of grain swallowed by seven lean ears. Joseph interprets the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty will be followed by seven years of hunger, and advises Pharaoh to store grain during the plentiful years. Pharaoh appoints Joseph governor of Egypt. Joseph marries Asenath, daughter of Potiphar, and they have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Famine spreads throughout the region, and food can be obtained only in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to purchase grain; the youngest, Benjamin, stays home, for Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him; he accuses them of being spies, insists that they bring Benjamin to prove that they are who they say they are, and imprisons Simeon as a hostage.

from The Parasha in a Nutshell
Mikeitz: Genesis 41:1-44:17
Chabad.org

A significant part of our parshah (Mikeitz-Genesis 41:1–44:17) is taken up with a pair of dreams dreamt by the king of Egypt. These dreams are actually recounted not once, but three times: first we read an account of the dreams themselves; then comes a more detailed version, as we hear them described by Pharaoh to Joseph; and then comes Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh, in which he offers his interpretation of the dreams’ various components.

And these are but the last in a sequence of dreams detailed by the Torah in the preceding chapters. Joseph is in Pharaoh’s palace interpreting his dreams because of another set of dreams, dreamt two years earlier in an Egyptian prison. Back then, Joseph was incarcerated together with two of Pharaoh’s ministers, each of whom had a dream which Joseph successfully interpreted.

“The Cosmic Fantasy”
From the Chasidic Masters
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Adapted by Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Chabad.org

We see that the first of Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37:5-11), though long in coming to fruition, are now rapidly taking shape. Though scorned, hated, almost murdered, and finally sold into slavery because of these dreams, they were nevertheless dreams from God. The only reason those dreams were perceived as a reason to hate Joseph was because of Joseph’s teenage arrogance. Now look at him. Older, wiser, shrewder. After all, when Joseph was finally “remembered” and taken into the presence of Pharoah, King of Egypt at the beginning of Torah Portion Miketz, don’t you think he knew exactly what he was doing?

“Accordingly, let Pharaoh find a man of discernment and wisdom, and set him over the land of Egypt. And let Pharaoh take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and organize the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. Let all the food of these good years that are coming be gathered, and let the grain be collected under Pharaoh’s authority as food to be stored in the cities. Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish in the famine.”

The plan pleased Pharaoh and all his courtiers. And Pharaoh said to his courtiers, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is none so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my court, and by your command shall all my people be directed; only with respect to the throne shall I be superior to you.” Pharaoh further said to Joseph, “See, I put you in charge of all the land of Egypt.” And removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; and he had him dressed in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command, and they cried before him, “Abrek!” Thus he placed him over all the land of Egypt. –Genesis 41:33-43 (JPS Tanakh)

I call Joseph “shrewd” but please remember, that isn’t necessarily a poor trait to have when in “enemy territory”.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. –Matthew 10:16-20

Returning to the Torah portion, I’m not saying that Joseph is being entirely self-serving here. After all, he spent years as a slave and more years as a prisoner (though in fairly exalted roles for each position) and that time served to teach the young dreamer humility, but who could blame him for wanting to “butter his bread” a little? Who wouldn’t want to get out of prison? Besides, it’s not like Joseph used his appointment as Viceroy to take advantage of others. Joseph didn’t even retaliate against the chief cupbearer who promised to remember Joseph to Pharaoh after Joseph had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream in his advantage, but who then “forgot” him completely for two years.

Although we see Joseph certainly “challenging” his brothers in this week’s Torah portion as well as in next week’s Parashah, he isn’t “taking revenge” upon them. He could have chosen to have them killed, or make them slaves, or have them rot in prison, yet he refrains.

Joseph’s first dream comes to realization in this week’s parsha. His brothers come down to Egypt and prostrate themselves before him. The dream of the sheaves of the brothers bowing to Joseph’s sheaf is at last fulfilled. But strangely, Joseph does not feel himself satisfied. It is human nature that the expectation of the realization of events is always greater and more exciting than the fulfillment of the realization itself. No vacation or event that we plan for ourselves can live up to our imagination and expectation regarding it. And Joseph is further burdened by the enormity of what has transpired. He has the brothers, who sold him as a slave and were deaf to his shouts and tears and pleas for mercy, in his hands. But what is he to do with them now? And what of his beloved father, the old man, broken in grief, whom he has not seen or communicated with for twenty-two years? Are the brothers telling him the truth about his father’s condition? And what about Benjamin, his younger brother? Is he like the other brothers in attitude and belief or is he different? Does he mourn for his lost brother Joseph or is he sanguine about his fate, as his ten older brothers seem to be? All of these questions plague Joseph at the moment of his seemingly great triumph when his brothers are in his power and abjectly bow before him. His triumph therefore seems somewhat hollow to him at that moment.

-Rabbi Berel Wein
“Vengeance vs. Conciliations”
Commentary on Parashas Miketz
Torah.org

If, as Rabbi Wein suggests, the realization of Joseph’s earlier dreams seems all too hollow, what about our dreams?

I’m not saying that the typical dreams we all experience during sleep are prophesies from God, nor do I believe that the vast majority of people have any Divine gift to interpret prophetic dreams as Joseph certainly did, but when I say “our dreams,” I really mean “our ambitions.” What about the things we want? If we get them, how wisely is our stewardship over them?

In a sense, the 17-year old Joseph’s boasts about this first dreams were acts of “poor stewardship”. He utilized his knowledge to “lord it over” his brothers and father and the result was a wreaked life for Joseph, Jacob, and ultimately (though they didn’t realize it at the time) for all of Joseph’s brothers. When Joseph stood before Pharaoh, we can say that he exercised “good stewardship” of his ability to interpret dreams, which resulted in him not only being released from prison, but being placed in an extremely high position of authority over Egypt. This gave him the unprecedented ability to save everyone in Egypt, Canaan, and the rest of the civilized world, including his entire family, from a seven-year famine.

How we manage our “dreams” and ambitions makes a difference, too. Most of us don’t exercise authority to the same scope as Joseph, but what we want, even if benign and charitable, can have dramatically different results depending on our attitude, intent, and execution. Judaism has the concept of kavanah which generally means “intention”. In Kabbalah, kavanah modifies the sefirot allowing them to be directed, and depending on that direction, a person’s activities, both in the world we experience and in the spiritual realms, can have wildly different consequences. How dreams are managed in Joseph’s early life vs. his later experiences is dramatic proof of this statement.

If the teachings of Kabbalah and Talmudic Judaism are a little difficult for you to swallow, Jesus told many parables on good and bad stewardship including Luke 12:35-48 and Luke 16:1-15 that tell the same story. I think “The Parable of the Talents”, is particularly illuminating.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ –Matthew 25:14-30

It’s not just what you’re given, but what you do with it that matters. What you do with your resources depends on your character and your intentions. As we see from the example of Joseph, even what you are given depends on how you have managed other, lesser jobs. That’s also the lesson taught by Jesus in his parables. One who was responsible for a lesser task will be given much greater authority. Imagine that, once you were saved, you never told anyone else about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but instead, horded this treasure for yourself?

So when you dream, it’s not so much whether you dream big or small that is the key factor. It’s what you do with your dreams and how you treat other people when your dreams come true. For if you manage well when one dream comes true, much bigger dreams will also be granted you. However keep in mind that such responsibility can come at a price as Rabbi Wein’s commentary points out.

Joseph comes to the great realization that his ultimate triumph over his brothers lies not in punishing them – though he will certainly cause them great anguish on their road of repentance – but rather to eventually conciliate them. Vengeance is momentarily more satisfying than is conciliation. But in the long run, vengeance lies not in human hands. And it will only continue to widen the rift within Jacob’s family. Joseph’s greatness and heroism lies in the fact that he chose the road of healing and conciliation rather than that of punishment and vengeance. Joseph, out of all of the avot and the brothers is called tzadik – righteous and holy. This is certainly due to his behavior in escaping from the clutches of Potiphar’s wife. But Joseph’s righteousness and piety is exhibited not only in that incident. It is apparent in his treatment of his brothers after his dream of their bowing down to him has been realized. He will protect his brothers from the Pharaoh and the ravages of Egyptian society. He will support them physically, financially and spiritually for the rest of his life. He still weeps at the gulf of suspicion that yet exists between him and the brothers. Conciliation is a long and difficult road to traverse. But Joseph realizes that it is the only hope for his family’s continuity and purpose.

Being wise stewards, we should use our gifts to repair relationships rather than destroy them. When we reconcile with even one person who was formerly estranged from us, we also reconcile them and ourselves with God.

Good Shabbos.

Your Young Men Will See Visions

Receiving the SpiritAnd afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Joel 2:28

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Acts 2:17

Are you a Christian? If you are, has this happened to you? Have you ever rendered a prophesy? I mean have you ever rendered a prophesy like in the days of the Prophets of Israel? Have you ever spoken in languages that you did not know? Have you?

No?

You should have…that is, if you received the Holy Spirit.

Let me explain.

In Acts 2:17, Peter is quoting the Prophet Joel to explain the following event:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. –Acts 2:1-4

During the festival of Shavuot (the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai), the Holy Spirit came upon the core group of the Jewish disciples of Jesus and when it did, they were enabled to speak in languages they didn’t actually know. Many of the Jews from the diaspora heard the disciples speaking in their languages and were amazed. Some though, thought the disciples were drunk. Peter defended them, denying that they were intoxicated at nine in the morning, and then he quoted from the Prophet Joel to further illuminate the meaning of the event.

But all this had happened before:

So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied – but did not do so again.

However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. –Numbers 11:24-30

It may have been a bit of a stretch to expect the Jews of Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Egypt, and Rome, visiting Jerusalem for the festival of Shavuot in obedience to the commandment, to realize that the disciples were speaking through the power of God’s Spirit, but the most amazing thing was yet to come.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised (Jewish) believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. –Acts 10:44-48

Up to this point, Peter and the other Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah had witnessed the Spirit coming upon other Jews. It was a totally astonishing event to see the non-Jewish “God-fearers” also receive the Spirit in an identical manner. Christianity today tends to blow past just how amazing this was for the Jewish believers. For the first time, God’s Spirit became available to a people who were not of the Mosaic covenant. The Children of Israel no longer had exclusive access to God. The Gentiles could be saved!

But that’s not why I’m bringing this all up. I want to talk about the “accepting-the-spirit” experience recorded in Numbers and in Acts. In each case, the person receiving the spirit was suddenly (though temporarily) granted extraordinary powers, such as speaking the languages of other people groups and having the ability to render prophesy.

I ask again Christian, did that ever happen to you? Did you ever gain supernatural abilities when you came to faith? Why do I ask? Because it never happened to me. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a single Christian who, upon accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, was abruptly able to speak foreign tongues or render prophesies.

A fellow I used to know told me his “coming to faith” story and how the person at the “altar call” basically tried to force him to speak in tongues. My friend, through a number of events in his life, had come to faith in Christ. In a local church during an evening service, he answered the “altar call” and, with many others, he went up and met a man who prayed with him to receive the Spirit. One by one, the others who had gone up with him (apparently) received the Spirit and as time passed, the crowd diminished and the church started to empty.

But no matter how much he wanted to, my friend didn’t start speaking in supernatural languages. The person “guiding” him urged him on and even began to browbeat my friend.

DreamingI should mention at this point, that the person in question is a brilliant scholar and is fluent in several languages including Biblical Hebrew and Greek. He had these talents long before he came to faith.

Finally, out of desperation, my friend started speaking in the various languages that he already knew. This seemed to satisfy the Christian who was praying with my friend at the altar and, looking at his watch and mentioning that his wife was waiting for him in the parking lot, the man walked away and left my friend alone.

OK, not the ideal “conversion” story, but it does illustrate that some (but perhaps not all) churches expect when a person receives Christ and accepts the Holy Spirit, that they should have an experience similar to what we’ve read about in Acts 2 and Acts 10. As I’ve said though, neither my friend nor I…nor any other Christian I’ve ever met can say we gained access to temporary supernatural powers when we became believers.

I’ve never openly examined this matter before and asking this type of question is a departure from my usual sort of writings on this blog. But when you become a Christian, when you accept Jesus into your life, how do you know that the Holy Spirit comes upon you? Why don’t we prophesy? Why don’t we speak in “tongues”? Where are our visions? Where are our dreams?