Pinny Arnon

We Are Dreamers, and Our Job Is to Transform the Nightmare

The story of Joseph is a story of dreams. In parshas Vayeishev, which is the first of the four parshiyot that narrate Joseph’s life, we read of four dreams – the two dreams of Joseph in which his brothers prostrate themselves to him, and the two dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker who were imprisoned with Joseph. In the following parsha, Mikeitz, we will read of Pharaoh’s two dreams which Joseph will interpret and thus earn himself not only freedom from prison, but also great honor and power.

It is no accident that dreams play such a focal and pivotal role in the Torah in general and in the story of our origins as a people in particular. Dreams, the Sages teach, are a metaphor for this strange and temporal existence that we call life. King David writes in Psalms that “B’shuv A-donai es shivas Tzion, Hayinu k’cholmim/when God returns the captivity of Zion, we will have been like dreamers” (Psalms 126:1). In other words, when the redemption comes and we enter the world of truth, we will look back on this world as if it was a bizarre and nonsensical reverie.

The Alter Rebbe explains that dreams are a state in which logic and reason hold no sway (Torah Or, Vayeshev, Shir Hamaalos). As opposed to the waking world, where natural laws apply, dreams are a realm in which anything can happen. This can result in wonderful, beautiful dreams in which we lose all of our limitations and inhibitions, and also in horrid and terrifying nightmares in which our worst fears are given free reign and expression.

The world in which we currently find ourselves often feels more like a nightmare than a fantasy. Reason, morality, and justice are twisted and disfigured in the hands of those who are clearly unreasonable, immoral, and unjust. Like a persistent and disorienting dream, we find ourselves upside down and unable to wake up.

Yet the Alter Rebbe posits that this irrational nature of the dream-state is also its incredible advantage. The potential for reason and logic to be degraded simultaneously allows for them to be transcended. Just as one can choose to be subhuman in this world, so can he choose to be superhuman. Just as one can cast off his humanity to act in vile and animalistic ways, so can he supersede his natural inclinations and limitations to express his infinite Godly essence. This is the power and opportunity of this dream-like existence, to dwell in darkness but choose to see and be light.

In the time to come we will be roused from this puzzling unconscious state, and though we will recognize that “hayinu k’cholmim/we were like dreamers,” we will understand that we did not dream in vain. We were placed into this dreamscape with a purpose and a mission, and we were provided, through the Torah, with a powerful, other-worldly potential.

May it be that Hashem will soon return all of the captives of Zion. May we not only awaken from our nightmare, but may we finally complete our task of transforming it to the dream come true that it was ultimately intended to be.

 Pnei Hashem is an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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