Dream on, is an expression we use when someone shares a hope that seems fantastical. To dare to dream, is to have the courage to think beyond the box; to push the envelope. Plans that people dismiss as impossible, are the stuff of dreams. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a sermon entitled, “I have a dream”. It is his most famous speech because he dared to dream of a time when unity would prevail and human dignity would be the norm across all ethnic and color lines. His dream came true and that’s what made it famous.
When a dream becomes reality, the dreamer is vindicated, but until that time, dreamers are often mocked, derided, and even despised. They are also loved, but only by those who know how to value a dream. Martin Luther King was a dreamer and like all dreamers he was both loved and despised. He was tragically murdered because he was despised. His dream became a reality because he was loved.
Joseph was also a dreamer, and like all dreamers, he too was loved and despised. He was loved by Jacob, who knew how to appreciate his dreams. He was despised by his brothers, who did not know how to value his dreams. Joseph dreamed of majesty. He saw sheaves in the field bowing to his sheave. He saw the sun, moon, and the stars bowing to him. What did his dreams portend?
Two Kinds of Rebellion
Jacob’s family lived by the creed of Abraham. They were a morally minded people, who strove for transcendence and ethical comportment. They believed in the one G-d at a time when Paganism was the norm. They were revolutionaries, but theirs was a quiet revolution. They did not believe that they could live among the pagan tribes and retain their own lifestyle.
In fact, their experiences among others were usually negative. In Haran, their grandfather Laban deceived them, and their mother’s cousins despised them. In Shechem, their sister Dinah was raped. In Canaan, their uncle Esau nearly attacked them. So, they retreated to their private domain.
They lived on their own land by their own creed. They busied themselves with calving and raising herds so they could commune with nature and meditate on G-d. On their quiet undistrurbed estate, they could give voice to their unvarnished spirit and expression to their unfiltered soul. There, they could revel in spiritual ecstasy and meditate in ecclesiastic delight. There, they could ponder the deepest questions, the answers of which, give meaning to life. There, they could enjoy clairvoyant perception and transcendent knowledge. There, they could glitter like the heavenly stars as they probed the mysteries of the divine.
But Joseph was not content with this silent revolution hidden away from the world. Joseph’s soul yearned for more. He wanted to bring heaven down to earth. He wanted to inspire the masses as his great grandfather Abraham did. He was not content with living a holy life in his sacred corner. He was gripped by a passion to take on the world and to shake it to its very foundations. He wanted to journey all the way to Egypt, the center of ancient depravity, and showcase the brilliance of a sacred life.
He dreamed of worldly sheaves bowing to him. He dreamed that the sun and the moon would surrender to him. That kings and princes, ministers and masses, would drink thirstily from his well of knowledge. Inspired by his vision and insight, they would adopt the practice and principles of the Abrahamic faith.
The brothers mocked and despised him. They rejected his grand vision and labeled it a silly dream. Don’t you see, they asked, that if you went to Egypt, not only would they mock you, they would also absorb you. You think you will change them? No, naïve little brother. They will change you.
The powerful kingdom, sophisticated metropolis, vast wealth, and glittering beauty would lure you in. You would be enthralled by their magnificent architecture, fascinated by their symmetrical equations, and captivated by their superb grasp of science. You would be enchanted by their pagan sorcerers, enraptured by their glamourous culture and mesmerized by the exquisite elegance of their feminine wiles. You would not lure them in, little brother. They would lure you in.
But Joseph refused to accept his brothers’ verdict. He refused to surrender his dream. Only Jacob understood and valued his courage. Only Jacob believed in Joseph’s potential. Jacob alone could see that Joseph, his youngest, could succeed where his brothers might have failed. The brothers must stay home to preserve their spiritual integrity—in Egypt, they might indeed come undone. But Joseph was different. Joseph could turn the whole of Egypt around.
But Jacob said nothing. He knew he could not tell his older sons that the younger one would best them. He would need to let events play out on their own. And, indeed, they did. Events took an ugly turn.
Joseph went to the field to check on his brothers and they proclaimed to each other, here comes the dreamer. They did all they could to dissuade him because they believed his approach was heretical and dangerous. But when they failed, they resolved to stop him. They would not let him risk his soul.
First, they considered putting him to death—to let his body die to ensure the survival of his soul. However, Reuben convinced them to let him live. Just drop him in a pit and let G-d decide, advised Reuben. But then came Judah and said, no. If Joseph wants to pit his values against those of Egypt, let him try. Let’s sell him off to the Egyptians and see how long he lasts. It won’t be long, said Judah, before he succumbs to the wiles and allure of that pagan country. So, Joseph was sold, and the bet was on.
The brothers returned home and told Jacob that Joseph had died. To their minds, this was not a lie because he was as good as dead. When he got to Egypt, they reasoned, his soul would surely wither and die, and spiritual death is just as real as physical death. Jacob cried and grieved for his son, but something told him that Joseph was still alive. He knew that the pain of separation would have faded with time had Joseph really died. So, once again, Jacob bided his time.
The story ends with a dramatic twist. Judah, the impetus behind the sale of Joseph, departed from his family because his brothers blamed him for Jacob’s grief. In his new home, he was propositioned by a woman he assumed to be a harlot and he succumbed to her wiles. It turned out that she was his future daughter in law, rather than a harlot, but he could not have known that. Judah’s predictions for Joseph came true for him.
Joseph, on the other hand, lived out his dream. He came to Egypt and was propositioned by his lovely mistress, and despite her glittering beauty and gorgeous attire, he withstood the temptation. In fact, Joseph went on to become viceroy in Egypt and was a tour de force for goodness and righteousness in a land of moral depravity. Joseph left his mark on Egypt rather than Egypt on Joseph. So much so, that his father and brothers followed him to Egypt. And because of Joseph’s impact on the land, his descendants, the Jewish people, would one day survive their bondage in this land and eventually celebrate their exodus from Egypt.
The bottom line is, dare to dream the dream of G-d. Don’t be satisfied with your personal piety. Share what you know with the people around you. Don’t be afraid that you might be compromised by exposure. So long as you work to rub off on others, others won’t rub off on you.