Friday, December 23, 2022 / 29 Kislev 5783

Shalom Chaverim,

Goodness. Happiness. Peace…

…If our positive wishes for people do come true, then Goodness, Happiness, and Peace are what you can expect this weekend. The Shabbat during Chanuka is always and (almost) uniquely a triple-header of holidays: Rosh Chodesh – the New Month of Tevet on the Jewish lunar calendar, Chanuka (still!), and of course Shabbat. As greetings and blessings we say all these today: “Chodesh Tov”, “Happy Chanuka”, and “Shabbat Shalom” – May you have a Good month, a Happy festival of lights, and a Peaceful Shabbat…

Perhaps, though, we might fall into saying these wishes and blessings as mere pro forma greetings, or words that suffice to express a general and positive hope for the world. Ideally, we would instead offer these wishes with clear mindfulness and focused intention, as a specific and measurable outcome that you full-heartedly wish for the someone whom you are addressing on a particularly auspicious day in the calendar.

It is similar with dreams: Do our dreams really offer insight into our most cherished feelings, hopes, or outlooks? Or are they random by-products of subconscious processes? Can dreams portend the future or reflect a more accurate understanding of the past? Do dream themes or symbols have universal psychological meaning? Are dreams sent as signs or insights meant to guide us toward making them manifest? Can they serve as warnings for dangers or destinies to avoid or alter?

Dreams are a major theme in the story of Joseph, and particularly in this week’s Torah portion, Miketz. We can’t help but to wonder about the connection between dream and reality: Does the dream tell the whole story, or is truth to be found only through its interpretation? Does Pharaoh’s dream show a certain future or does Joseph who controls Egypt’s agricultural policies ‘engineer’ the reality that accords to his explanation of the dreams?

Although we are not Pharaoh or Joseph, our own dreams sometimes stay with us into our waking consciousness. We wonder what these messages from our slumber mean, indicate, or portend. No less significant are our ‘dreams’ in the colloquial sense of saying we ‘dream’ about seeing long-term and ultimate goals achieved, fantastic hopes and the most profound aspirations realized. Theodore Herzl helped launch the revitalization of the entire Jewish People to establish the State of Israel with the words: “Im tirzu, ein zo agadah – If you will it, it is no dream.” 

The Talmud has some fascinating (and rather funny) discussions about dreams. It gives the specific meaning of dream-appearances for a long list of characters, animals, etc. that might appear or the events that might happen in a dream. The Talmud also accepts that a ‘dream interpreter’ was a recognized profession, based on the idea that a dream only really meant something in the conscious world of reality if – and according to – its interpretation stated aloud. It was thus crucially important to offer a premium price to the dream interpreter so that you were more likely to receive a positive interpretation!

Although it adds ‘pressure’ to our greetings which would otherwise be simple and nearly mindless social constructs, try to think of your [likely very many] greetings this season as ‘dream’ interpretations: Just assume that the greetings and blessings and good wishes you say have real efficacy for the people you address. It really means something to say “Chodesh Tov”, “Happy Chanuka”, and “Shabbat Shalom” – May you have a Good month, a Happy festival of lights, and a Peaceful Shabbat…These ‘dream’ blessings are opportunities for real connection, for caring, for sharing…

Chodesh Tov, Happy Chanuka, and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Michael