One of Israel’s best-known poems, written by the famous Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernichovsky, is “I Believe”, also known as “Sachki, Sachki”. It opens as follows: “Laugh, laugh at all my dreams! What I dream shall yet come true! Laugh at my belief in man, at my belief in you.” This poem, written in 1892, is regarded as one of the greatest of all social protest songs, and was advocated by Israeli civil right organizations as an alternate national anthem. The poem expresses a utopian belief in a State of Israel based upon humanism, socialism, Zionism and fellowship. In the poem, Tchernichovsky proclaims the need of the visionary to first and foremost believe in his/her dream. Herzl wrote in his book Old-New Land “Ma’asei adam bachalom yesodam” – “All the deeds of men are only dreams at first”. The dream that is the source of all things is also a central theme in this week’s Torah portion.
Parashat Miketz is characterized by tension and movement between extreme situations – between despair and hope, between the hardship and loneliness of Joseph’s imprisonment and his rise to power, between Joseph’s separation and alienation from his family and his reunion with his brothers, between hunger and satiety. This tension is reflected in the names Joseph gives his two sons: Menashe, “for God had made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house”, and Ephraim, “for God had made me fruitful in the land of my affliction”.
This transformation is also reflected in how Joseph is perceived as a dreamer – from the derogatory way his brothers perceived him in his youth (“Here comes that dreamer, let’s kill him, throw him into a pit”; Genesis 37:20) to Joseph the interpreter of dreams. In our Parasha Joseph provides Pharaoh with an interpretation which reveals a wonderful ability to enter others’ dreams and dream with them. From “that dreamer” of his youth, Joseph becomes the fulfiller of dreams, and thus the ruler of the land and leader of the people.
The question arises, why does Joseph have to undergo this difficult journey? Why wasn’t he applauded, praised and promoted for having the ability to dream at such an early age? Joseph was accused, convicted and imprisoned. He was abandoned, deserted, and sold into slavery. He was pursued by a married woman, forgotten by fellow inmates, and alienated from the family he loved.
Perhaps the most challenging question is this: Is dreaming worth it? Would it have been better for Joseph to forget his dreams, abandon his ideals, and just mind his own business? Why didn’t he quit?
One possible answer is given to us by Joseph’s own testimony, that his suffering was all part of God’s plan to save lives. “Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5).
Another possible answer lies in Tchernichovsky’s poem. “Laugh, laugh at all my dreams! What I dream shall yet come true…” Regardless of misunderstanding and misinterpretation, the power of the dream makes it all worthwhile.
Joseph teaches us a lesson in leadership. First, although dreaming might carry a heavy price, we should not give up in the face of difficulties. Second, being able to help articulate others’ dreams and put them into action is what makes a great leader.
Devora Greenberg, born and bred in Jerusalem. Director of the Masorti Rav Siach program- community engagement for Israel and Diaspora. More information can be found on their website – https://www.masorti.org.il/ravsiach