Dream states are mentioned in both the Torah portion and special Hanukkah haftarah for parashat Miketz. I will be discussing the dreams in the Torah portion, but first I want to briefly discuss dreams in general.

Most people can relate to dreams because of the wonderful mystery that they sometimes represent in comparison with the often harsh nature of everyday life. Dreams often seem to be random with no rational explanation, but sometimes they clearly express our fantasies, hopes, or even desire to escape from the real world.

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My father-in-law, for example, lost the use of his legs because of complications related to diabetes. An active man who had loved to work, drive his pickup, and regularly visit friends at the local coffee shop, he spent the last several years of his life in bed and wheelchairs at a long-term care facility.


I once asked him, “In your dreams, are you able to walk?”

He replied, “In my dreams, I am not only able to walk, I can fly.”

Dreams often express an intensification of emotion. We don’t want to wake from some dreams, whereas others are so frightening that our hearts race and we are startled upon awakening. We are very fortunate that not all of our dreams come to pass.

Dreams since time immemorial also have been understood in many cultures to be windows through which we can see the future. What an attractive thought! Having the ability to go to sleep and readily see future events that will happen tomorrow, next month, or next year would be quite a gift. Unfortunately, it can be argued that dreams more often than not say more about the emotional and mental state of the dreamer than the future.

We long remember events that are unique in some way and many of these experiences are imprinted on our subconscious. The symbols in our dreams can be taken to represent some emotional condition or an event that has happened in some form and might happen again in a slightly different way because of the repetition of general patterns in our lives. That’s why dreams typically need to be interpreted before they make any sense to our conscious minds.

The welfare of his country had probably been concerning Pharoah for some time. In Genesis 41, he went to sleep and dreamed of seven fat cows followed by seven lean cows, and then seven good ears of corn followed by seven thin ears of corn. Also, in Zechariah 4:1 of the special haftarah, an angel woke Zechariah as one is wakened from sleep and asked him what he saw.

Joseph was not a person who was able to successfully interpret dreams because of any inherent wisdom. In Genesis 41:16, he told Pharoah that it was not “in him” to know the interpretation of dreams, but God would give to Pharoah an answer of peace. Zechariah also sought the help of the angel in understanding what he saw, as mentioned in Zechariah 4:4-5.

Joseph told Pharoah in Genesis 41:25 that God had declared to Pharoah what He was about to do. Although Joseph by divine inspiration was able to interpret the dreams to mean that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine, he did not have the power to guarantee the seven years of plenty. All he could do was put the abundance in storage in preparation for the lean years.

Joseph's interpreting dreams with specific details required courage. If everything happened as he interpreted, he would be perceived as either a prophet or an inspired interpreter of dreams. If it did not happen as predicted, at the very least he would never again be trusted as an interpreter of dreams. Fortunately for Joseph, things happened just as he predicted.

We continue to dream today and we seek to understand our dreams as much as people did in the Tanach. There are so many factors that can change and influence the outcome of an event, the only way to successfully predict specific details is to be in total control of every possible variable. From a human point of view, such total and absolute control is impossible. Therefore, rather than looking at our dreams as forecasters of the future, perhaps we should try to learn what dreams say about us as individuals so we can engage in a little bit of self-improvement.

There are common themes in a lot of people's dreams. Haven't we all dreamed of being chased? Or perhaps dreamed of being in a fast-moving automobile with no means of controlling it? Another common dream for many people is the ability to fly. What do such common themes say about us as a species? 

When I dream of flying, I’m never fortunate enough to be like Superman or Ironman. I’m never propelled through the air with the greatest of ease by some unseen jetpack or antigravity ability. To my disappointment, I always have to push against the wind with great effort and it is a struggle to keep from falling. Staying airborne seems to work for me in dreams, but it’s always tentative and hard work. So I'm reminded even in my dreams that anything worthwhile usually requires a lot of dedication.

Today, we often use the term dream in the sense of something good that we want to happen. Thus, our daytime dreams are an expression of our hopes for the future. If dreamers want to see their dreams fulfilled, it is advisable for them to align their dreams with the possible and then stay determined until their labors bring forth the desired results.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “I have a dream,” and then he worked to make his country a better nation. Many victories against racism and injustice were subsequently won. Let us have dreams that accomplish good in the world and then let us work to bring them to pass with untiring energy.

Yoeli’s Mandate: Leave your mark, make a difference for the good, and do your part to make sure that they never again devour Jacob, or make his habitation waste.

You may write to Yoeli Kaufman at ocfidina@yahoo.com

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