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The Dreamer

Harav Aharon Lichtenstein




With gratitude and in honor of the bar mitzvah, this year b'ezrat Hashem,
of our twin sons, Michael and Joshua - Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise


This shiur is dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev. 
May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM
be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.







The Dreamer

Adapted by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



“Behold, the dreamer is coming…” (37:19).


Yosef’s brothers certainly hated him for the content of his dreams, which included his domination of them, but here we see that they refer to him as “the dreamer” (ba’al chalomot), indicating their scorn for him over the mere fact that he dreams, irrespective of the content of those dreams. Likewise, the verse “They hated him even more, because of his dreams and because of his words” (37:8) would seem to indicate that they resent “his dreams” (the fact that he dreams) along with “his words” (their content) – although Rashi understands the verse differently.


Yosef was a dreamer, and this fact (along with his brothers’ response to it) sets in motion a chain of events that profoundly alter the course of his life. Later on, too, we see that his destiny continues to be shaped by dreams: the dreams of the royal butler and the royal baker in Egypt, and the dreams of Pharaoh himself. However, whereas at this later stage Yosef is able to utilize dreams to get ahead and treats them pragmatically, at the outset he is very naive concerning his own dreams. He starts off not only a dreamer but also overly innocent. When he sees some negative behavior among his brothers, he hurries to report to his father: “Yosef brought bad reports about them to their father” (37:2). There is no reason to suspect that Yosef sought merely to slander his brothers; rather, it seems, he sincerely sought their benefit and wanted them to mend their ways. It did not occur to him that his actions would spoil his relations with his brothers; he acted out of innocence.


Later on he rushes to tell his brothers about his dream. This, too, represents astonishing naivetי, considering that the content of the dream is such that it is certain to arouse hatred and jealousy on their part. Yosef, however, apparently fails to grasp that the significance of the dream is that his brothers will be subservient to him. And once his brothers have already responded harshly to his dream and now hate him even more than they did before, he still does not hesitate to tell them about his second dream. It does not seem reasonable to posit that Yosef sought at this stage to rub salt into the wound. A more likely interpretation of his behavior is that he simply did not perceive what was happening around him; he saw no reason not to share his dream. We may say that Yosef was naive, absorbed in his own world and detached from reality, while his brothers were practical people with their feet firmly on the ground.


While Yosef’s behavior seems undesirable, we cannot reject his experience out of hand. The Gemara (Berakhot 14a) teaches that anyone who sleeps seven consecutive nights without any dream is called “evil.” A person must not confine himself completely to the present reality and have no dreams at all.


This applies not only to individuals, but also on the communal and national level. Zionism is, to a great extent, a dream. It is the dream of all Jews throughout two thousand years of exile, and the dream of a group of individuals during the 19th century, who knew how to translate this dream into reality. Today, there is a prevailing sense that this dream has come to an end: part of it has been realized, part has been buried, and there is nothing left to dream about. A Jew may not feel this way. Even if we withdraw from parts of Eretz Yisrael, we may not relinquish our existential connection to the land. We may not forget the vision and the dream of dwelling in the whole of Eretz Yisrael and achieving the full and complete redemption. Our feeling must be as it was in 1948.


On the individual level, a yeshiva student must not lose his dream; he must not look only at reality. Every yeshiva student must have dreams – both in terms of his learning and in terms of building his personality and his fear of Heaven. Even if his dreams are far-fetched and impossible to attain, there is still great importance in having a dream – so that at least some of it will be achieved. Limiting oneself too closely to reality serves to weaken one’s ability to progress and develop.  In this sense, we should all strive to be like “the dreamer.”


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