Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Mikeitz

Joseph’s dreams and his ability to read dreams take center stage in this week’s Torah portion, as we watch these talents ascend him to power. He was able to help an entire nation imagine both the wonders of luxurious excess and also the depths of famine … and prepare them for both. Joseph’s ability to see past the immediate time and circumstance allowed him to prepare Egypt to live responsibly through the years of plenty and survive the years of drought. Egypt emerged from the 14 years whole and still prepared to grow the empire. No one else understood Pharaoh’s dreams. No one else could comprehend the signs and symbols of feast and famine.

“Imagine there is no end to the grains we will grow for seven years. How could we store them and preserve them, so as to not waste our future?” “Imagine that from the wealthiest to the poorest, we all had to ration our grains so that all Egypt survives.” “Imagine that our prayers over these next fourteen years galvanize in concern for each other’s well-being. We know that if one of us is out of grain, we are all starving.” What did Egypt do? Pharaoh took the grain in years of plenty, and then made people sell themselves into slavery just to get back a portion of their own grain. The rest of the Biblical Egypt story is horrific.

35 years ago, a music icon died after being shot by a disgruntled fan. John Lennon’s death was the tragic on so many levels, not least of which was the loss to the music world and the world’s peace movement. Lennon’s hallmark song is “Imagine.” People love it as it calls on us to dream of a day when we will live in peace. Some people loathe the song, as the lyrics seem to call for an end to all of the institutions (religion, government, etc.) that help us find meaning in life. In truth, many in both camps have missed the crux of his intentions. He did not advocate ending religion; he advocated ending the ways in which we use religion to separate us. He advocated (much as did John Locke) that government should serve to coalesce the people not segregate them from each other (nor from the rest of the world). His plea was also not passive. “You may say I’m a dreamer.” “I hope someday you will join us.” He is not affirming being a dreamer; he asks not to be dismissed as just a dreamer. He asks that people join (not a passive act) in the cause of making peace real. He never shied from acknowledging the racial diversity in his own home or the religious diversity in his musical world. He even wrote a Christmas song. Lennon spoke no differently than did the Biblical prophets, throw down the weapons you have used to exile yourself from your neighbors, and remember that it is not by might or power, but by spirit that we can live in peace.

Joseph was an odd bird. He never fit in with his family but found his calling on the world’s center stage. John Lennon was an introvert who stayed personally insular even when living in the spotlight and sharing his innermost dreams through his music. Joseph did not have any friends and received credit for much of the disruption that plagued his family (to the point that his brothers wanted to kill him). Even at the height of his fame, he lived alone with his wife and sons sequestered from the world. John Lennon’ story is not very different. His childhood was rocky, and his relationships were strained. We now know that the Beatles held together for as long as they did because John somewhat marginalized himself to his new wife and drug habit. Joseph emerged from his plight as he rediscovers his brothers and his father. Lennon was just beginning to re-emerge from seclusion as his meditative anti-war/anti-violence messages took hold in the public eye. Then he was shot. His lasting effect on music is undeniably legendary. His lasting effect on “Peace” … well, his message and his death have done nothing for gun control. As to Joseph, well, the Book of Exodus begins, “Then arose a Pharaoh, who knew not Joseph.”

History has witnessed lots of dreamers come and go. Joseph was right, we needed to stand together to prepare for and survive the famine. Lennon was right, we need to join together and be active in turning from weapons and war. Somehow, though, we historically dismiss both of them as simple dreamers who obviously did not understand the real world.
What if we paid attention to what both taught us, and gave them the credit they deserved? How different would Egypt have been if they really did protect each other? How different would our world be if we realized that faith matters more than creating a hierarchy of God’s favorite religions? How different would we live, if we did turn in our weapons for plows and our bombs for grains? Oddly, many religiously argue that Joseph was the fourth Patriarch, and yet, they ignore his call for unity as they walk outside of church and into the real world. Many have deified the Beatles, forgetting their commitment to peace. Their revolution was against war.

I pray that we find ways to give new ears to the messages we have heard and yet ignored for millennia … and for decades. I pray that we remember that everything that changes the world begins with someone’s dream, and that we find ways to honor and dignify dreams rather than relegate them to the world of pure fantasy. “EEM TIRTZU AEN ZOH AGGADAH – if you really want it, it is not just a dream.” Theodore Herzl spoke those words in envisioning a Jewish homeland. If we really want peace, want it enough to join together in its cause; none ever has to again be afraid. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one. I hope someday you will join us … and the world will be one.” “On that day, God will be one and God’s name will be one.” Shabbat Shalom.