Ariella Nadel

I Want to Dream Like Joseph

And I also dream like Joseph,

Yes they also threw me into the pit

A wheel that repeats inside a costume,   

And like David I make it into a Psalm

Hanan Ben Ari (Dream Like Joseph)

This modern-day Psalm by Israeli singer Hanan Ben Ari reminds us that our life stories, personal and national, can be illuminated through the strengths and challenges of our matriarchs and patriarchs.  Most relevant to our Parsha, VaYigash, is the song’s title which charges us to “Dream like Joseph.”  It is Joseph who teaches us how to dream with our eyes wide open.  While his father Jacob dreamed of a ladder connecting heaven and earth while asleep (Breishit: 28:16), Joseph’s visions of greatness take place while he is awake – the dreams of youth.  Even when those dreams are seemingly shattered, Joseph picks them up piece by piece; exemplifying how, with initiative, vision and G-d’s help, one can keep dreams alive and ultimately make them come true.

Yet, should Joseph in fact provide us with the paradigm of a dreamer?  Our sages have questioned the manner in which Joseph goes about actualizing his dreams.    After more than two decades of separation, Joseph reencounters his brothers.  According to Ramban (Breishit 42:9), rather, than immediately revealing his identity,  Joseph spends four chapters manipulating events so as to ensure the detail by detail recreation of his dreams. But why is it Joseph’s job to make his dreams come true?  Isn’t that a job more appropriately left to G-d?

So many of us, whose immediate family spans multiple continents, continue to experience the pain of physically being disconnected from our loved ones. How could the righteous Joseph delay reconnection with his aging, bereaved father denying him the solace that he so needed and deserved.  Poignantly as well, the period between the initial encounter and the revelation of Joseph’s identity in our Parsha, is filled not only with the turbulent emotions of the brothers but that of Joseph.  Twice we find the viceroy of Egypt removing himself simply because he cannot hold back his tears (Breishit: 42:22, 43:31).  If the journey to bringing his dreams to life is so painful than why does Joseph so steadfastly remain on course.

A potential answer can be found in the Midrash Tanchuma (Shmot 13:19).  In the final days before his death, Joseph charges his brothers with the task of taking his bones out of Egypt.   Ultimately, he says, G-d will remember them and bring them back to Israel.  His charge is an implicit hint to the Children of Israel to both to keep their dreams of home alive and a reassurance that the dream will someday come true.

Two hundred and ten years pass, and it is Moses who remembers Joseph’s request (Shmot 13:19).  He retrieves Joseph’s bones from deep within the Nile and personally carries them out of Egypt.  Ultimately, he places them at the center of the Israelites camp next to the Ark of the Covenant.

The image of two Arks side by side – the Ark of G-d and the Ark of His Dreamer – provides a visual of the secret of Jewish continuity.  It is our capacity to dream, like Joseph, which has given us hope even in when we have found ourselves in the darkest of pits.  It is Joseph’s protracted actions to make his dreams come true that  has taught us, “those who plant with tears, harvest with joy.” (Psalms 126:5 ).   And it is his steadfastness that has demonstrated that while the road through history may be arduous and long, strewn with challenge and tears –  if we continue to dream with our eyes wide open, then with our initiative and with G-d’s help we will make it Home.

About the Author
Ariella Nadel has been a TaNakh teacher and community educator for the past twenty-five years. Until making Aliya this past summer to Modi’in, she was a TaNakh teacher at Yeshivat Akiva/Farber Hebrew Day School in Southfield, Michigan. She currently teaches at several Midrashot in Israel and is an adult educator for JLearn of Metropolitan Detroit. Ariella Nadel has a pedagogue degree from Michlala College for Women and holds degrees in Judaic Studies and Political Science from Yeshiva University and a law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
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