Chai (18) years ago, it was my oldest son’s Bar Mitzvah. Six months earlier, our Sacramento shul was firebombed. Moving to a temporary location, we rolled the ark with Torah, and the wood-lattice mechitzah down the street to a nearby school, kind enough to let us use its facility.
The compromised location, didn’t put a damper on the cheerful festivities. Family and friends came from all over the world. “People are looking up to you”, I told my son proudly, after he completed his especially long Shabbat Hanukkah service. “I’ve noticed”, he said, already then towering over me.
My Bat Mitzvah, some years prior to that, took place at Or Chadash, the reform synagogue of Haifa. In a world where the Seculars didn’t step in shul, and the Orthodox didn’t have shul services for girls, I wanted to read Torah. And Haftara. And say something. And have a Kiddush. People came over for a reception, filling our two-bedroom apartment. Presents included a sweater my mom knitted; and books like “Masada” and “4000 years of Jewish History”.
This week’s reading includes Pharaoh’s dreams; Joseph interpreting those, and some of Joseph’s dreams coming true. We follow the lad, who was dropped in a pit – due to his dreams, being lifted, out of another pit, 13 years later, to the royal throne, due to his ability in figuring out dreams.
Dreams are amazing: davka (especially, contrary to what we might think) in the darkest of night, when we are most removed from life, when we are most vulnerable, entrusting our souls, a hint appears; a light; a minor prophecy.
One of my favorite sections in the Talmud deals with this issue (Tractate Brachot, Chapter 9). More than the dream itself, a great weight is given to the interpretation. Each dream is made of falsehood and truth nonsense and reality. “The interpretation “rules” the dream”, says the Zohar, “therefore one should tell his dream only to someone who loves him, so there is the greatest potential for the dream to come true in the best way possible.
At the end of last week’s reading, the butler and the baker tell joseph their dreams (Genesis 40:8):
ח וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו–חֲלוֹם חָלַמְנוּ, וּפֹתֵר אֵין אֹתוֹ; וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם יוֹסֵף, הֲלוֹא לֵאלֹהִים פִּתְרֹנִים–סַפְּרוּ-נָא, לִי. 8 And they said unto him: ‘We have dreamed a dream, and there is none that can interpret it.’ And Joseph said unto them: ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? tell it me, I pray you.’
And the question is, why does Joseph say, ‘interpretation belongs to G-d, tell me’? If it belongs to G-d, shouldn’t they tell Him? It’s possible that the intent is for them to know that solutions are divine. And also, Joseph is doing “therapy” with them. He takes no credit for the solution, but encourages them to talk. Saying things can reveal meaning.
Joseph insists that there is one Power behind all the images. We might notice the number 7 in Pharaoh’s dreams: 7 cows; 7 sheaves of grain (41:5):
ה וַיִּישָׁן, וַיַּחֲלֹם שֵׁנִית; וְהִנֵּה שֶׁבַע שִׁבֳּלִים, עֹלוֹת בְּקָנֶה אֶחָד–בְּרִיאוֹת וְטֹבוֹת. 5 And he slept and dreamed a second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.
There is something else that is made of 7 that is one, and there too, the word קנה “ka-ne” (here translated as “stalk”) appears – the menorah in the Temple. The menorah had different shapes and forms, but it was made of one “block”. It’s light was not made of separate candles, but a result of its oneness – the power of unity.
Joseph too, tells Pharaoh: “Pharaoh’s dream is one (One)” – ‘it seems to you, Pharaoh, that nature is made of different pieces, that there are different gods, different forces, energies, constellations, but really, it’s part of the Oneness; that One is past, present and future, unchangeable, the power of all powers; that is the Truth.
Back to Hanukkah: We are taught that G-d’s signature is Truth. Where do we see G-d’s truth in measurable things? The word for truth in Hebrew is אמת – emet, which is gimatriya is 441 = 4+4+1=9. The number 9 doesn’t change its multiplications: 18 = 1+8=9; 36= 3+6=9 etc. Any number you add in this way, won’t be changed by a 9. Hanukkah candles begin with 1 and end with 9. The total of actual candles is 36. Even in the darkest times, a flame flickers.
Rav Shteinman, one of “gdolei hador” of the Ultra-Orthodox world, passed away earlier this week at age 104. Here is but one short story:
A young man approached the rabbi, asking about buying a new sports car. “it’s been a dream”, said the young man, “My wife says I shouldn’t because we would be invoking tremendous envy, but I don’t think so”.
The Rav asked: “Is there any tractate of the Talmud you have worked at, studied really well, and now know? How about a chapter? Maybe a sugiya or even just a page?” When the young man replied in the negative, the Rav said, “Then in that case you’re right. I don’t think anyone has any reason to be envious of you”.
Hanukkah Same’ach & Shabbat Shalom