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Torah Sparks

December 8, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 37:1 - 40:23 (Hertz, p. 141; Etz Hayim, p.226)
Triennial - Year I: Genesis 37:1-36 (Hertz, p. 147; Etz Hayim, p. 226)
Haftarah - Amos 2:6 - 3:8 (Hertz, p. 152; Etz Hayim, p. 246)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(37:1-11) The Joseph story begins. Jacob favored Joseph and gave him a "coat of many colors." Joseph's dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him some day. Not surprisingly, Joseph's brothers hate and envy him.

(37:12-36) Joseph's brothers plot to kill him. Then, at Reuben's urging, they change their plan to sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt. Jacob's sons deceive him into believing that a wild animal killed Joseph.

(38:1-30) Events in Judah's life after the selling of Joseph, particularly the story of Tamar.

(39:1-6) Joseph's experiences in Egypt at Potiphar's house.

(39:7-19) Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph. He refuses, so she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her.

(39:20-23) Joseph is imprisoned, but once again rises to a position of authority.

(40:1-23) Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker are imprisoned. Each has a dream which Joseph interprets. Joseph's interpretations come true, but the cupbearer who is saved forgets his promise to help Joseph.

This Shabbat's Theme: Dream-Work

And Joseph dreamed a dream... (Gen. 37:5)

  1. From ancient times, dreams have tantalized people with their secrets. Today dreams are used to explore the inner chambers of the dreamer's mind. In antiquity, however, dreams were thought to be signs from divine powers exposing their intent. While occasionally dreams contained a direct divine message (as in Gen. 15:13 when God appeared to Abraham in a dream), they usually were considered coded visions to which a key was needed. Professional dream interpreters who claimed to possess the proper keys were prominent in Mesopotamia and especially in Egypt. An Egyptian manual of dreams (ca. 1300 B.C.E.) contains over 200 interpretations (The Torah, A Modern Commentary, W. Plaut, p.261)
  2. IF A MAN SEES HIMSELF IN A DREAM WHERE... he is reminded of his wife, Good! Evils will retreat from him. Where his manhood is enlarged, Good! His possessions will increase. Where he plunges into a river, Good! He will be cleansed of all evil. Where he is drinking warm beer, Bad! Sufferings will come to him (Hieratic Papyri in B.M., Alan H. Gardiner, Vol. I, 9-23; see also Wings of the Falcon. Joseph Kaster, The Interpretation of Dreams, p153 ff.)
  3. And Joseph dreamed a dream... Dreams were always an important subject for consideration. We live one-third of our life dreaming. Think of it, one-third of our life is spent in a vague, shadowy, unreal, inactive land - the Land of Dreams. If our allotted time on this earth is seventy years, about twenty-three years of them we wear away in Dream Land (Morris Mandel and Leo Gartenberg, Treasures From the Torah, p. 55)
  4. There are six dreams in the Joseph narrative and they come in pairs (Joseph = 2, prisoners = 2, Pharaoh = 2). As in other ancient Near Eastern literary sources, multiple repetitions of a dream indicate that they are to be taken seriously. (Author)
  5. "Lord of the Universe, I am Thine and my dreams are Thine. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it is. May it be Thy will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, to confirm all good dreams concerning myself and all the people of Israel for happiness; may they be fulfilled like the dreams of Joseph. But if they require amending, heal them as Thou didst heal Hezekiah king of Judah from his illness, Miriam the prophetess from her leprosy and Naaman from his leprosy. Sweeten them as the waters of Marah were sweetened by Moses, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. Even as Thou didst turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, mayest Thou turn all my dreams into happiness for myself and for all Israel. Protect me; be gracious to me and favor me. Amen." (Prayer recited in Orthodox synagogues on Festivals during Birkat Kohanim - the Musaf Priestly Benediction. It is based upon a talmudic passage in Berachot 55b. Translation from Daily Prayer Book, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem, Philip Birnbaum, pp. 628-630)
  6. To Freud, a dream is a "bootleg" traffic in repressed desires. Its method of evading the internal-revenue-officers of the moral and social world are interesting. It smuggles its wares by wrapping them in camouflaged packages and employing ingenious dramatic disguises - at times with as little regard for the moral as for the logical properties. The tale as told by the dreamer forms its superficial or patent content. Its below surface, naked meaning is its latent content. That (the latter) is what it really "means".. To derive the one from the other is the task of dream analysis. Unraveling the "dream-work" is part of the art that Freud inaugurated. (Joseph Jastrow, Freud - His Dream and Sex Theories, pp. 54 - 55)
  7. Pro and con opinions about dreams - A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read (Talm. Berachot 55a). No wheat without chaff: no dream without nonsense (ibid.) A dream is the incomplete form of prophecy (Genesis Rabbah 17.5). A dream only reflects the dreamer's thoughts (Talm. Berachot 55a). Dreams are of no consequence (Talm. Gittin 52a). A dream brought me into the sanctuaries of God (Judah Halevi, Selected Religious Poetry, p. 9)
  8. What you probably can't have is a 'penny scale" of dream interpretation, a code which says "This means that". But you can have so much more. Your brain is doing all this homework for you, getting your mind in order. In this light, dreams may be nonsensical for the same reason that housecleaning tends to make a mess. My housekeeper makes a mess every time she visits, but it's much cleaner when she is done. (J. Allan Hobson, "The Chemistry of Dreams", Harvard Magazine; May-June 1998; p.67)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

Dreams are so much a part of the psyche of every person who ever lived. Where then do you stand on this subject? Do you think that there are any telepathic possibilities to dreams? How are the Freudian views holding up today? Are there other more current theories that are more credible to you?

In reference to this week's Torah reading, we might want to ask ourselves the following theological question: If Judaism maintains that dreams can be used to predict the future (as in the biblical narratives of Joseph and Daniel) would this not then smack of "fatalism" and contradict the Jewish teaching of "free will"?

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