Though he goes along weeping, carrying the seed-bag, he shall come back with songs of joy, carrying his sheaves.” (Psalms 126:6)
Joseph’s tale begins with dreams of sheaves, that is, of seeds that had already ripened. “Hear this dream which I have dreamed,” he tells his brothers, impolitically. “There we were, binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf.” (Gen. 37:6-7)
Joseph may dream about ripe grain and sheaves, about an end game. But his dream is only the beginning of his journey. His dream sends his brothers into rage, and they in turn send Joseph into slavery. A long road of hardships opens up before him, a long, long time to “go along and weep” before he can ever reach a moment of “rinah” (song of joy).
* * *
Dreams and seeds collide again when Pharaoh dreams of wheat stalks. “In my other dream, I saw seven ears of grain, full and healthy, growing on a single stalk. But right behind them sprouted seven ears, shriveled, thin… and the thin ears swallowed the seven healthy ears.” (Gen. 41:21-24)
By this point, Joseph is well-versed in reality’s sudden shifts from plenty to disaster. He knows that a beloved son can one day find himself a slave, and a respected slave can suddenly become a prisoner. His life’s travails prepared him to understand this dream, to grasp the meaning of this moment. There will be plenty, he tells Pharaoh, but it will be followed by disaster. The good times will be prologue, like they were in Joseph’s life.
* * *
Joseph’s life prepared him to understand the warning.
But it was his tendency to dream, dream big, that comes to play in his advice.
Plunge your hands into the time of plenty, he tells Pharaoh. Set aside some seeds to help you in the drought.
Seeds, like dreams, can be a portal into the far-away future. They can be a way to claim a stake in something past today.
The dreams have guided Joseph past his times of hardship. They painted a horizon far above the pit, the slave-quarters, and the prison cell. They told him: rise, aspire, toil. Go on striving up and up until you come rejoicing, bringing in life’s sheaves.
The seeds will feed Egypt past its time of hardship. They tell the hungry: come, do not give up, there’s hope.
* * *
Joseph the dreamer collects seeds of grain, and they are his solution for Egypt’s future problems. But they are also the seeds of his oldest dream’s fruition. They bring his brothers back into his orbit, where they will bow to him, like the sheaves of grain in his first dream.
Joseph sows the metaphorical seeds of his dream’s fruition, even as he collects actual seeds to feed Egypt in the drought. His metaphorical seeds will grow and ripen when actual wheat will grow scarce in the seven bad years. The drought will bring his kin to him in search of sustenance. And one day, Joseph will rejoice with them, bringing in his journey’s sheaves.
* * *
Like Joseph in his youth, I dream of the end game. A victory. An end to these days of loss and suffering. A better future for our people, for the world.
Sheaves and sheaves of good things, all already ripened, all ready to be taken in, to be enjoyed.
But we’re not there yet.
The sound of jet planes hangs in the air like constant thunder. We hold our breaths, waiting for the storm to hit. Who will be next? Whose loved ones will appear on today’s list of deaths, and on tomorrow’s?
The soil waits for rain and blood below our feet.
Each day, I wake up to sadness. And I think — God, this is our time of drought. We’re parched for comfort and for happiness.
God, we’re starving for a taste of hope.
But even in this time, there are little gusts of plenty. Unlike Pharaoh’s, these gusts of plenty don’t come with the gushing strength of a an overflowing Nile. Nor do they last for seven years. Sometimes, they span less than a moment. A child smiles, a bird chirps, and we feel happy. I hear that the farmers sowed wheat in Be’eri, and I feel hope.
And in these moments, I remind myself to be like Joseph. Joseph dreamt big, and grasped each opportunity, each seed, to bring his dreams into fruition. As we dream of the happy ending of our journey, let us grasp even the smallest joys to help us on our way.
Let them be our seeds, our grain, and nourish us in the days of drought before us.
Let them be our dreams and stars, an inspiring horizon to keep us walking through the hardships and the pain.
Let them remind us to keep on striving tomorrow and tomorrow, until our country’s efforts ripen into victory, until we reach our dreamed-of future of “rinah.”
* * *
God, we have sown so many tears already. Help us ascend into the next phase in our story. Help our efforts ripen into victory. Restore the fortunes of Zion, so we can marvel and rejoice “ke-cholmim,” like dreamers, and songs of joy can grow out of our tears.