One of the major subjects of Parshat Vayeshev and of the Joseph story cycle is dreams – from Joseph’s dream of his brothers bowing down to him first as sheaves of wheat and then as stars in the sky at the beginning of this week’s parsha, to the two ministers’ dreams in Pharaoh’s royal prison, to Pharaoh’s two dreams about the sturdy and skinny cows, and then the solid and scorched corn at the beginning of next week’s parsha. Perhaps this preoccupation with dreams throughout the second half of Breishit has something to do with the fact that God is less of a visible player – God never appears to Joseph directly as He did to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. The closest that Joseph comes to prophecy is through dreams, a natural phenomenon with which all of us are familiar, but which Joseph interprets in each case as an omen predicting the future.
The brothers also consider dreams to have some reality to them, insofar as they find Joseph’s dreams threatening. Their motivation for throwing Joseph into the pit is at least in part to prevent his dreams from coming true. The Torah describes that the brothers saw him from afar, and said to one another: “That Ba’al Chalomot, that dreamer, here he comes! Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we can say, “A savage beast devoured him.” We shall see what becomes of his dreams!”
According to the simple reading of the text, this comment, “We shall see what becomes of his dreams”
ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו
is meant as a snide remark. We will kill Joseph, and then we’ll see if his dreams come true, they say, mocking him incredulously. Rashi, however, reads this verse differently. Commenting on the words, “We shall see what becomes of his dreams,” Rashi says, “It is Ruach HaKodesh (the divine spirit) that speaks these words. That is, the brothers say “let us kill him,” and then God responds, “We shall see what becomes of his dreams!” Rashi explains why the latter half of the verse cannot possibly be spoken by the brothers – and here I quote from Rashi:
אי אפשר שיאמרו ונראה מה יהיו חלומותיו, שמכיון שיהרגוהו בטלו חלומותיו
“It would be impossible for the brothers to have spoken these words, ‘And we will see what becomes of his dreams,’ because once they killed him, they invalidated his dreams.”
Why is it that the brothers cannot have spoken the second half of this verse? Because, reasons Rashi, how could they possibly see what becomes of Joseph’s dreams if they kill him? Here I think that Rashi is playing on a double meaning – on the one hand, מה
refers to “what his dreams will become,” the content of his dreams, that is, what he will dream in the future. In this sense we can understand why Rashi says that the brothers could not have spoken these words – after all, once they kill Joseph, he will no longer have any dreams
and would certainly be unable to share them with his brothers.
But of course,
refers not just to the content of Joseph’s dreams, but also to whether or not the dreams actually come true. Here God is asserting that even if the brothers try to kill off Joseph, they will not succeed in killing off his dreams – as indeed the rest of the Joseph story will attest.
I am intrigued by this distinction between the content of Joseph’s dreams, and whether or not they actually come true, because I think it speaks to where D and I stand on the brink of our marriage. Until this point, we have spent much of our time talking about our dreams. The process of our getting to know one another was a process of sharing dreams with each other, not in a boastful way like Joseph with his brothers, but in an attempt to draw one another in to our hopes and aspirations. We have discovered many shared dreams—to always fill our lives with Torah and with literature, to live in Eretz Yisrael while remaining close with our families—and I think that much of what made our courtship so wondrous was realizing how many dreams we had in common. Moreover, in describing our dreams, we discovered that we spoke the same language – the language of ours favorite poets Yeats and Stevens, and the language of Talmud and midrash. We found that we shared the reflective, intense self-awareness that comes of keeping journals as a written emotional record of our failings and of our aspirations. Both of us moved from confiding in our journals to confiding in each other, as the record of our email correspondence attests. The Talmud in Masechet Brachot, in an extended passage about dreams and dream interpretation, famously states
חלמא דלא מפשר כאיגרתא דלא מקריא
a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read (Brachot 55a). When I think of how eager I was to read each of D’s emails during the first few months of our dating, I can only hope that our dreams will be fulfilled with similar alacrity.
As we got to know each other better, D and I moved from sharing our individual dreams with one another to creating shared dreams, as we began to imagine a life together. “We will see whose dreams come true—mine or yours,” God scoffs at the brothers, according to Rashi’s reading, suggesting that God has His own dreams for Joseph. In the same way that Joseph’s dreams are bound up in God’s dreams for the Jewish people—such that God refers to Joseph’s dreams as “mine,” we can only hope that in the joining of our dreams, in the joining of ish and isha, we will create a space for shechina, for God’s presence and God’s role in the unfolding of our destiny.
Of course, the only way to know if a dream is true or not is to wait and see if it is actually realized. A dream is what scientists refer to as outcome-determinant – its outcome determines its nature. We cannot know if our dreams are going to come true, if our marriage is to be a good one, until we live out our lives together. Our dreams will carry us only so far – beyond that point, we must work to make them into reality, to climb out of the pits into which we’ll inevitably fall, and to return to the people we most love. John Donne, a poet that D and I have often quoted to one another, captures this notion in his poem about a man who is awoken by his lover in the middle of his dream, and says to her:
Thou art so truth, that thoughts of thee suffice,
To make dreames truths; and fables histories;
Enter these armes, for since thou thoughtst it best
Not to dreame all my dreame, let’s act the rest.
It is with great dreams for the future, and also with a deep faith in God, that D and I make the transition from dreaming our dreams to “acting the rest.” In the past month, as we have planned for our upcoming wedding, I have been again and again impressed by D’s ability not just to dream dreams – not just to come up with great ideas – but also to execute them smoothly and efficiently, whether by speeding on his bike to the other side of town on a moment’s notice, or by carrying a 30-pound box of wedding booklets up a big hill (no load is too heavy for D), or by organizing a bus to transport 60 people to another friend’s wedding just one week before ours. D is a master of logistics and organization, and I am grateful to him for tirelessly applying his skills throughout our wedding preparations. It may sound silly to say, but I couldn’t have gotten married if not for D! While performing each of these logistical feats, D always remains aware of the individuals who are involved. He takes the time write thoughtful personal notes, and to figure out how he can most meaningfully be helpful to others. As I got to know the Fs, I realized that D’s attention both to the logistical details and to the sensitivities of the people involved did not come from nowhere, but is typical of the entire family.
The Talmud teaches that a person who wakes from a dream and does not know how to interpret it should recite the following prayer:
חלום חלמתי ואיני יודע מה הוא….אם טובים הם, חזקם ואמצם כחלומותיו של יוסף….וכשם שהפכת קללת בלעם הרשע לברכה, כך הפוך כל חלומותי עלי לטובה
“I dreamed a dream and I do not know what it is. If it is a good dream, strengthen and sustain it like the dreams of Joseph…. And just as you converted the curses of Bilaam the evildoer into blessing, thus may You change all my dreams into good” (Brachot 55b). As we prepare to get married just a week from today, it is our fervent prayer that God will strengthen and sustain the good dreams we have shared, and convert them into blessing. To invoke the language of Birkat HaChodesh that we said in shul just yesterday, the prayer we recite each month at a time of new beginnings:
שימלאו כל משאלות לבינו לטובה
May all our heart’s wishes be fulfilled for good.
I know that both of our hearts are overflowing with hopes and wishes for the future. We are grateful to all of you for being with us today to take part in and to celebrate our dreams.