This is such a gevaldik Torah from one of my rebbes I had to post it. Archives can be found at http://www.secjerusalem.org/torah.html. Have a spectacular, loving, light filled Shabbos, Chanukah, Rosh Chodesh.
Torah Thoughts from Jerusalem
The Impossible Dream
If there is a theme that seems to run through the Torah portions that are always read in an around the festival of “Hanukah”, it is the importance of dreams. A good portion of the second half of “Bereisheet” deals with dreams. First there is the famous dream of Jacob where he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder. Then we read about the dreams of his son Joseph where he sees sheaves of wheat and the sun moon and stars bowing to him. In last week’s Torah portion we read about the dreams of the butler and the baker that Joseph meets in the Egyptian jail cell. Finally in this week’s portion of “Miketz” we will read about the dreams of Pharaoh of scrawny cows devouring healthy ones. Joseph not only emerges as a first class dreamer but as an expert of dream interpretation. One would almost think that the second part of Bereisheet is a psychology manual on dreams and their meanings.
Why does the Torah have such a pre-occupation with dreams? More specifically why do we always read about dreams during the festival of “Hanukah”?
The answer to that question is actually quite scientific. There is a great deal of research that has been done on dreams and dreaming. What most observations show is that we dream during Rapid Eye Movement sleep known as “REM”. What many people don’t know is that when we sleep, and more specifically when we dream, it is when the greatest amounts of growth hormone is secreted. These were the findings of a team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in an article entitled “Growth Hormone Secretion during Sleep” (Y. Takahashi, D. M. Kipnis and W. H. Daughaday).
Of course as a Rabbi who is always trying to find the spiritual message behind everything, it is hard to overlook the philosophical significance of this scientific finding. What these findings are telling us is that not only do we grow physically through dreaming but without the ability to dream we cannot grow spiritually either. To dream is to grow. To dream is to have aspirations. To dream is an inherent part of what being Jewish is all about. Had the Jewish people stopped dreaming, we would have been gone long ago.
The importance of dreams in Jewish thought can also be seen by a number of statements made by our Rabbis. They devoted a considerable amount of time to the importance of dreams. In the Talmud, the final chapter of the Tractate of “Berakhot” is devoted largely to the subject of dreams and their interpretations. In that same chapter the Rabbis made the following statements, “Dreams are one sixtieth of prophesy” (Talmud Berakhot 57b). A more radical statement is made in the name of Rabbi Ze-era who states the following, “Any person who goes seven days without dreaming is called bad” (Ibid 58b).
The importance our Rabbis placed on dreams can also be seen in a number of laws that were enacted to offset bad dreams. The Talmud also explains that a special prayer to annul bad dreams can be said during the time that the “Kohanim” are blessing the people during the morning prayers. These are all but a few examples.
Yes dreams play an important role in Jewish thought and even more so they play an important role in Jewish history. Our nation has always been filled with dreamers who have always reminded us that no matter how dark the reality is we can never stop dreaming of a better one.
Yes Joseph was the greatest dreamer of all. In the pit of an Egyptian prison cell he dared to dream of a better day where he would leave the prison and become an important leader. In the solitude of Egypt he dared to dream that the day would come where he would be reunited with his family. In the heresy of Egypt he dared say that everything he did and stood for was not for personal gain but for G-d’s glory. And in a far away place his father Jacob also never stopped dreaming that the day would come where he would see his beloved son. In fact at the end of his life when he blesses his children Jacob says the following to Joseph, “I had never dreamed (Pilalti) that I would ever see your face and behold now G-d has shown me your children”. How interesting that the word Jacob uses for “the thoughts of his dreams” is “Pilalti” which is the same root as the word “Tefilah” which means prayer. The association is very powerful. For is not prayer a state of wakeful dreaming where we are filled with aspirations and the hopes and dreams of what we want our lives to become.
It is for this reason that the Torah in the latter part of Bereisheet devotes so much time to dreams, and it is also the reason why we read these portions around the time of the festival of “Hanukah”.
The holiday of “Hanukah” is all about dreaming. Who would have thought that the Jews who, as we say in our prayers, were few could stand up to the mighty army of the Greeks? Weren’t those Jews crazy, why would they endanger their lives and the lives of their families in a war that on paper was hopeless? What in the world got into the minds of the “Macabim” to fight such a preposterous battle? The answer is their dreams. Like Joseph before them they were not afraid of the impossible. They too dreamt of better times where they would be free and the Land of Israel would once again return to Jewish hands.
In fact if we are looking for a “Hanukah” hero, let me suggest that it was a crazy “Kohen” who had to be a dreamer. The Talmud (Shabbat 21a) explains that we celebrate the festival of “Hanukah” for eight days because when the Macabim freed the Temple they found that all the olive oil used to light the Menorah was defiled. But they searched and found one small jar hidden and sealed with the stamp of the High Priest. It had only enough oil to light for one day but instead it lit for eight days. And so we celebrate every year the festival of lights.
But who was that crazy “Kohen” who had the foresight to hide that one small jar of oil. What was he thinking as everything around him was going up in flames and the mightiest army of the world was overtaking the Temple? Didn’t he have anything better to do than to hide one little jar of oil? Dear friends he was a dreamer and he is the true hero of the “Hanukah” story. It is because of his dream that we celebrate today.
Dear friends the message of Hanukah is “never stop dreaming”. Today we find ourselves in darkness. A huge financial crisis hangs over our heads, corruption is everywhere, terrorism is rampant, and no one has yet to offer the solution. If there was ever a time to dream it is now. Who can forget the words of Martin Luther King when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Today America has a black president. Was someone just dreaming? Perhaps yes, but today that dream is a reality.
Wishing you all a Happy Hanukah
Rabbi Yosef Benarroch