December 21, 2000
Parashat Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1-40:23)
Just as the morning light begins to shine through my windows, my dreams become vivid movies. They combine images from the past, worries of the present, and a confusing dialogue that takes place in a strange but familiar parallel universe in time.
Sometimes, like Jacob's, my dreams are a wrestling match between my superego and my id. Sometimes, like Joseph's in this week's Torah portion, my dreams are messages from God that stir up feelings of anxiety and discomfort.
More than a year ago when I first found out I was pregnant, my dreams turned very vivid. They began as what I now know was a revelation from God, but at the time they only increased my anxiety. My first dream was of a tall, thin girl, about 11 years old. She was standing outside. She had long straight light-brown hair with bangs, and as I looked up at her from below, I said, "Oh, so this is what our daughter will look like." That was the entire dream, and even today I can still conjure up the image of that angelic creature, standing above me. When I woke up I first thought that I must be carrying a girl. But rather than feeling calmed by my revelatory experience, I questioned its legitimacy. As a result, all of my subsequent dreams were about the anxiety of having a boy. In one dream I actually remember looking at our new baby child and saying "Oh well, it's a boy," accompanied by a sigh of sadness.
They say that for an onlooker, the eyes are the windows into another's soul. If that is true, then I believe dreams are the window into our own souls. In the Talmud, Rabbi Chisda teaches that "the dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is unread" and that "a dream is a prophecy in miniature"(Berakot 55a). Rabbi Bana'ah taught that "there were 24 interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem. Once I dreamed a dream, and I went around to all of them, and they all gave different interpretations, and all were fulfilled, thus confirming: All dreams follow the mouth [of the one who is doing the interpreting]" (Berakot 55b). If that is so, what are we to make of the four dreams in this week's portion: two of Joseph's, one of the cup bearer and one of the baker?
The Torah teaches that as soon as Joseph had his dreams, he told his brothers: "Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers, and they hated him even more" (Genesis 37:5) and "He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers" (Genesis 37:9). Did Joseph follow the Talmud's teaching by telling his brothers his two dreams to seek their interpretation, or did he have another reason?
In order to answer this question, we have to admit that we usually treat dreams as private pearls, sharing them only with those we trust. They are personal and often kept as secrets. Sometimes they embarrass us, other times their messages confuse us and we shrug them off as nonsensical. But Joseph seems certain about his interpretations and is either unaware of or indifferent to his brother's and later the cupbearer's and baker's reactions to his interpretations.
Why such certainty on Joseph's part? Why did he continue to tell his brothers his dreams even though he saw their anger? Perhaps Joseph, unlike myself and the "24 interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem," was able to look beyond his own filters of anxiety, hope and uncertainty and just hear God plainly. Though he risked being arrogant, the fact that he seemed untouched by other people's reactions may indicate his certainty that God had spoken to him. How simple, if only we were that open to God's messages in our own dreams.
Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh is rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood.