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Parshat Miketz Drash

12/21/2023 11:31:41 AM


Rabbi Faryn Borella

December 15, 2023

This week, I had a dream. I found myself in a parallel universe, where every few hours, a giant tidal wave would rise up, and wash over the entirety of this human society. I found this tidal wave terrifying, destructive, a force for total annihilation. But I was surprised to discover that this society I found myself in had adapted to the tidal wave. They had somehow built a world where the tidal wave would wash over them, leaving them suspended underwater for 30 minutes to an hour at a time, at which point the water would slowly subside, and they would return to their normal tasks. I found that no one in this society was scared of the tidal wave. Rather, they had integrated the tidal wave. Its patterns of ebbs and flows had simply become their patterns, and life was adjusted accordingly. For part of each day, they survived safe and sound in the cocoon of a watery haze, and returned to a regular form of human productivity as it receded. This thing which I could only interpret as a force of total annihilation was simply, for them, routine. I was floored. And while no one else appeared afraid, I just could not seem to calm my nervous system to trust the tidal wave along with them.

Sing: *Let the waves wash over me. I am already under. Let the waves wash over me.*

In this week’s parshah, Pharaoh has a bad dream. Two bad dreams, actually. He is so disturbed that he calls for all the magician-priests in all of Egypt to help him interpret his dreams. But none of them can make two cents of it. This is when a lowly cupbearer informs him that in his very own prison resides a Hebrew boy whose dream interpretations have proven true. A Hebrew boy named Yosef/Joseph.

Pharoah calls for Yosef, and Yosef is immediately able to interpret the dream. Yet before Yosef’s interpretation can even be proven true (which it eventually is), Pharoah somehow knows it to be true. He trusts Yosef. He sees Yosef’s interpretation as an accurate prediction of the future, and promotes him to the highest rank in Egyptian society due to it.

Now, in this framework of dream interpretation, dreams exist as a form of fortune-telling, if you only know how to interpret the dream correctly. All the dreams Yosef interprets over his lifetime, whether his own or that of others, are informing him of what is to come in the future.

Which begs the question, if dreams are a form of fortune-telling, of what future does the society of the tidal wave tell?  

Sing: *Let the waves wash over me. I am already under. Let the waves wash over me.*

I often tell people, “I only have bad dreams.” In my lifetime, I can only recall one or two truly positive dreams. The rest rest on a scale of slightly anxiety-provoking to absolutely horrific. My dream state is that of an activated nervous system.

I remember planning and co-facilitating a dream workshop once for Jewish youth. We drank mugwort tea (thought to heighten one's dreams), shared our dreams and learned about practices of Jewish dream interpretation. The workshop did not go as planned, for some of the kids brought in some pretty traumatic dreams. When I was reflecting with my co-facilitator after the fact, she shared surprise, as she mostly has positive dreams. It hit me in that moment–I could have known better. My dreamscape could have predicted this moment. Dream worlds can be murky and ethereal, just as our waking world is murky and ethereal. If we have trauma in our lives, so too must we have trauma in our dreams. If we have injustice in our lives, so too must we have injustice in our dreams. So what comes first? Our bad dreams predictors of misfortune in our waking lives? Or does misfortune in our waking lives lead to bad dreams?

There is a makhloket–a disagreement–in the Talmud. Rav Huna Bar Ami argues that when one has a bad dream, one should bring it before a tribunal of 3 for interpretation. Rav Chisda disagrees. He argues–why interpret it, which will only bring it to fulfillment? Instead, bring it before a tribunal of three who can make it good–who can literally turn it from a bad dream into a good one.

When Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream, he predicts a future of 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine. And he advises Pharoah that, given this knowledge, he needs to appoint someone to oversee the land in the seven years of plenty so that they are truly prepared as a society for the 7 years of famine. He literally takes Pharaoh's dream–a dream Pharoah felt in his soul as bad–and makes it good, for his interpretation of the future it tells allows them to adequately prepare for that future. And not only that, but his suggestion of appointing an advisor clearly works in his favor, for he is the one appointed as that advisor. Through his “making good” of Pharaoh's dream, he literally turns from a political prisoner to the top official in all of Egypt.
(an aside question: Did Yosef use his powers for manipulation, or was this just a happy coincidence?)

Similar to Pharaoh, my dream left me feeling quite unsettled. I felt that my nervous system was swimming inside of my body. The anxiety could not be quelled. If I were to classify it, I would classify it as a “bad dream.”

But what if I were to make it good? Ultimately, my dream is one in which a force that, under most circumstances would be a destructive one, was somehow not. My dream is one in which the dream-people made the unlivable livable.

I don’t know about you all, but I often find the world we live in unlivable. The atrocities we directly and indirectly inflict on one another are so horrific, and we are able to witness and consume them on such a mass scale, that I often feel that I am being crushed under a 40-foot wave of water. How can a human possibly live under such conditions?

And yet, my dream-people did. And we do.

So when I think of my dream in its “bad” version, I saw the time in which the dream-people were crystallized in their water cocoons as lost time that the people simply had to bear in order to return to their daily, productive lives. It was an adaptation to their circumstances that allowed them to survive, but perhaps prevented their thriving. However, if I chose to make this dream “good,” how might I interpret the time of the water cocoon? 

What if time in the water cocoon, rather than time wasted, was time restored? What if I chose to read time in the water cocoon as just as “productive” as the time spent performing daily tasks? What if the wave, rather than a force for destruction, was a force for protection? What if the water-cocoon was the only thing that allowed for them to continue on in their lives? For my dream-people chose not to resist the wave. Rather, they surrendered to it. They allowed it to transform and change them.

Sing: *Let the waves wash over me. I am already under. Let the waves wash over me.*

In one of my first sessions of the “Reconstructing God” class, we sang the song I just sang. For some, they found the song utterly terrifying. It sounded like a cry to surrender to death. To others, they read it as a call to action. For when you are taken by a wave in the ocean, what are you called upon to do? Not resist it, but rather, swim under and through. To literally let the wave wash over you.

So what of the terrifying wave crashing over us in this time?

The rabbis say one of the lines one should recite to turn a bad dream into a good one is a line from psalm 30, reading:  “Hafachta mispodi l’mchol li”--your transformed my mourning into dancing. And this psalm, as it just so happens, is a psalm that gets invoked every day of Hanukkah, which officially drew to a close just a few hours ago.

As we all feel deep in our bones, we are in a time of great mourning. But Hanukkah, and this week’s parshah, asks of us, how can that be transformed into dance? How can we take the tidal wave of pain and grief and violence crashing over us right now and surrender to it in order to transform it not only into justice for all, but joy for all? Not just survival for all, but thriving for all?

That is our command in this moment. We will not be deterred. For we are the forces that are good and make good, if we only choose to be so.

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, July 20 2024 14 Tammuz 5784