|I am Joseph; is my father still alive? (Genesis 45:3)
These words are the climax of one of the Torah’s most dramatic stories. Joseph, the second most powerful person in Egypt, reveals his identity to his unsuspecting brothers. Question: Why did he wait 22 years before telling his father (Jacob) that he was safe and thriving in Egypt? He might have been resentful toward his brothers for almost killing him but why did he punish his father by remaining in secrecy for so long? Ramban (1194-1270) addresses this question.
How is it that Joseph, after living many years in Egypt, having attained a high and influential position in the house of an important Egyptian official, did not send his father even one message to inform him (that he was alive) and comfort him? Egypt is only six days’ travel from Hebron, and respect for his father would have justified even a year’s journey! It would have been a grave sin to torment his father by leaving him in mourning and bereavement…even if he wanted to hurt his brothers a little, how could he not feel pity for his aged father? (Ramban, 42:9)
Joseph knew his dreams were not simply dreams but were prophetic visions needing to be actualized. Had Jacob known Joseph was alive, he would have come immediately and the dreams would not have been materialized.
There’s an important lesson here. Joseph never forgot his dreams and made conscious efforts and a strategic plan to fulfill them. In Hebrew, dream (chalom) has the same letters as “salt” (melach). Just as salt preserves food, so too dreams preserve our life’s purpose. One’s dreams reveal a great deal about a person. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream of freedom from racial prejudice and he lived his life according to it. Pursuing our dreams demonstrates what our values are. If a man dreams about being secluded on a desert island with a harem, that shows who he is, what his values are, and what he stands for. He will not lead the same life as one who dreams of helping inner-city children go to college or opening a soup kitchen.
At some point in life, each of us has dreams—what will my marriage, children, or career look like. Many of us had idealistic dreams but where are they today? Have they been forgotten or abandoned due to the obstacle’s life has thrown our way? This is a genuine tragedy because it means we have given up the very things that once gave our life meaning, purpose, and direction.Some people have Jewish dreams like building their community, helping Israel, or having a vision that can impact Jews. I met young woman who was going to change the face of the Jewish student population at her university but she got worn out and frustrated by the bureaucracy of the organized Jewish community in that city. She gave up on her beautiful and ambitious dream and transferred to a school with no viable Jewish presence and eventually took a path in life foreign to what had once motivated her. Her dreams as well as her Jewish identity didn’t just die, they were abandoned. Imagine a young girl who dreams about being a doctor; she really wants to help and heal people. When she’s in college, she doesn’t feel like taking Organic chemistry due to its academic demands. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to allow one class to hold her back from fulfilling her dream? Sometimes in life, one or two challenges have the ability to sideline our dreams. Just as salt preserves, so too we must preserve our dreams.
There’s a famous Yeshiva in Israel called Ponevezh, which was named for the Lithuanian city in which it was founded. Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who had lost his wife and most of his family and yeshiva during the Holocaust, managed to escape to Israel in 1940. In June, 1942 he began a campaign to rebuild the yeshiva. At that time, Nazi general Erwin Rommel—the Desert Fox— and his African corps were just a few kilometers west of the Suez Canal. His plan was to overpower the Allied forces, cross through Egypt, and then take over Palestine. This didn’t deter Rabbi Kanhaneman from his dream; he purchased land on a deserted hill in a suburb of Tel Aviv. The real estate agent could not believe that someone would want to make such a significant purchase at such a gloomy time. He couldn’t contain himself and asked, “Is the Rabbi dreaming? In a matter of days we may all be heading to the gas chambers?” The Rabbi’s response became famous, “I may be dreaming but I am not sleeping!”We learn from Joseph (Rabbi Kahanaman’s name was also Joseph) that it’s not enough just to dream, we must do everything possible to fulfill our dreams. Take a moment right now and ask yourself, “What are my dreams? Have I neglected or even forgotten them?” If you have none, go out and get some! Whatever the case, stay awake and don’t stop dreaming. Good Shabbos