What does it mean to dream?
As Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson notes, we use the word “dream” to connote two very different things (this is also true of the Hebrew term, chalom).
Merriam-Webster’s first definition is: “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep”. This is the sort of dream that Pharaoh recounts to Joseph in this week’s portion, Miketz. In the Joseph story—and often in literature—this sort of dream may prove prophetic. At other times, however, our sleep-time dreams seem to be of little or no significance in the waking world.
But there is another definition of dream: “an aspiration, goal, or aim.” This is the meaning expressed in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Theodor Herzl’s proclamation, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”
The first sort of dream is mostly something that happens to us, conjured up unconsciously by our sleeping brains. They may confer insight, but they do not require any action. The second sort of dream, by contrast, provides a kind of roadmap through life—a vision of where we seek to move ourselves and our society.
Pharaoh has dreams. But Joseph, as he grows up, from a spoiled youth to a compassionate sage, becomes more than one who has, or even interprets, dreams. The mature Joseph is, in the more active and far-reaching sense, a dreamer. It is his vision, in which we are all vessels through which the Divine works, that ultimately enables him to forgive his brothers and finally break the dysfunctional favoritism that has plagued every family in Genesis since Cain and Abel.
Proverbs teaches that when there is no vision, the people perish. As we celebrate Chanukah this week, enjoy the light and consider: what is the state of your dreams and visions? Are they calling you to do your part in repairing the world?