Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeishev
“Dreams are free.” These words are part of a framed print in my office. They serve as a reminder not to get so lost in what happens around us today that we cannot look forward to tomorrow.
Twenty five years ago, I embarked on a journey that was rooted in a dream. In the summer of 1990, I closed my law practice in Arkansas, and moved my family to Jerusalem. While pursuing this new dream of joining the rabbinate, I never could have dreamt of the many things I would have witnessed, experienced, celebrated, and grieved. I do remember second guessing myself once in the process–on the eve of my departure.
At that time my rabbi, Gene Levy, gave me his innermost blessing and advice. I was awaiting a pearl of wisdom that could stand with me and see me through, but what I got was, “If you don’t ask yourself daily, ‘what the hell am I doing here,’ then you don’t belong.” I was shocked. I never dreamt that on the eve of embarking on this life changing journey, that I would hear words so seemingly mundane, as an innermost blessing.I also never dreamt that the words would prove so prophetic. With all the challenges and celebrations that we encounter in clergy, we really do have to appreciate why we do what we do. Some days, the reminder is the extra hug we get after touching someone’s lives. Other days, it is the painful reminder that the challenges that cause us pain are not the sum total of what we do or who we are. Gene’s blessing for me has, in fact, seen me through now almost a quarter century of learning, of service, of challenge, of blessing … of living.
Tonight, he will co-install me as rabbi in what will be only my third congregation since ordination. This is year 20 since that date, and that’s a long time to have served only two congregations before. I have been blessed with incredible opportunity at Beth Israel Congregation in Florence, South Carolina, and at Temple Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky. Now, I hope for the same longevity and increased blessing with Monmouth Reform Temple, in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. I have been here for five months, and this is late for an installation, but it has given us an opportunity to get to know each other, establish relationships with each other, and to begin to dream with each other. Dreams are free.
Dreams … are free, and they are also free of boundaries. There are times that we dream of the most amazing experiences, the most impactful solutions to dire problems, or of calm and peaceful co-existence with the diverse forces that make the world a wonderland of miracles. At other times, we wake from nightmares shaking over imagined trauma that felt real enough to cause us pain. Dreams have no boundaries.
Sometimes, our dreams lead us to do things that heal the world and other times pursuing dreams causes us to destroy it. Most often, as we begin the journey down the path of fulfilling our dreams, we really cannot know which will be the result. World leaders rise and fall because of their heartfelt beliefs that the dream that pushed them to pursue power was a good answer for their community and for the world. They may not realize the magnitude of impact that the journey might have on society positive or negative.
Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad never intended to create new religious orders; they merely sought to see people fulfill their dreams of being better people with a greater understanding of and relationship with divinity. I am equally convinced that even those who sought to destroy the world as we know it, believed in their hearts, that they had answers that were better for humanity than what existed at that time. Dreams are free and have no boundaries.
We learn of the healing and destructive powers of dreaming in this week’s (and the next two weeks’) Torah portion. Joseph has a series of dreams, and each encounter he has after them is absolutely colored by both his own perceptions of their meaning and by the perceptions of those hearing his dream and interpretations. Some feel compelled to love what he dreams while others feel that his dreams shook the foundations of the earth. In the end, thousands of years after the story is written, we still debate whether his part in the events foretold in his dreams saved Egypt or condemned it and Israel both. Did he secure food for all of Egypt, or in hoarding Egypt’s grains and caring for his family, was he the cause of the 400 years of servitude that brought the plagues and so much hardship on his people and on the people who adopted him.
One of the things for which we must pay attention and learn from Joseph: in each of his dream situations (dreaming or interpreting), each revolved around his own power and status. Either he dreamt he was better than all others, or exacted promises of personal reward for helping people understand their own dreams. Like Joseph, we all have egos and self interest ranks high on our agendas for life’s goals and objectives.
Last night I saw a wonderful production of Camelot. In contrast to Joseph, King Arthur had a dream of a Utopian society. His dream was so selfless that it cost him his heart and ultimately his soul and his dream.
There has to be a place somewhere in between where our dreams must force us to hear the dreams of those with whose lives we share. A place where our needs and theirs find symbiosis, and where the result of merging dreams and life journeys create a synergy that helps to heal the world and not just promote the dreamer or the cause.
This is the prayer I utter each day as I remember my rabbi’s words. I never dreamt that they could have such a profound impact on my life. Every day, I have to be intentional in service to my family, to my community, and to myself. I know that there are days that I am more and less successful in this charge, but I do dream for the day when we can all meet this challenge and caring for ourselves and for each other, the world will become whole. The next leg of my journey begins tonight. I pray that I pay attention.