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Parashat Miketz: Teshuvah and the Power of Dreams

By Isabel Mares

“Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”
– John Updike

Every moment of our lives holds within it an opportunity to show up. As human beings, we dream up countless scenarios of how, and who, we will be in any given circumstance. Will we be righteous, neutral, self-preserving, frightened, brave? Our imaginations can run wild with the possibilities. How we will meet life’s challenges and opportunities is a mystery until they are before us. Who are we when we come face to face with our dreams?

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Miketz (Genesis 41:1-44:17), Joseph is confronted with two very different scenarios. One has to do with collective healing; the other, familial healing. Both are rooted in dreams and bring Joseph personal revelation.

First, Joseph is called to interpret the two consecutive dreams of Pharaoh. Joseph is the only one who can derive the meaning of them—a dream of “seven sturdy and well-formed cows” devoured by “seven other cows, scrawny, ill-formed, and emaciated,” followed by “seven ears of grain, full and healthy” swallowed by “seven ears, shriveled, thin, and scorched by the east wind.” (Genesis 41:17-23) He interprets a divine foretelling of seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine, which has already been set into motion. Even though these are not his own dreams, they become his and everyone else’s reality. Joseph is given the honor and responsibility of storing the grains from the seven years of plenty and then selling them to the hungry during the years of shortage. He steps up. He serves community, albeit in a land in which he likely never expected to have such a role.

Joseph also marries. He and his wife Asenath welcome two sons during the abundant years in Egypt. By naming his sons, Menashe, whose name means “forgetting,” and Ephraim, meaning “fruitful,” he acknowledges the bittersweetness of thriving in this foreign land.

The second example of Joseph facing a dream is one at which we have to look a bit closer. During the time of grain rations, he served the hungry from far and wide. One day, it is his brothers who are in need. All but Benjamin are in attendance. Although scripture does not say so, we can imagine that Joseph had dreamt of this moment in countless variations—when and how it might occur, and what he might do or say to his kin who betrayed him. Then the day arrives. The dream becomes reality.

Joseph deliberately hides his identity from his brothers and proceeds to set his own intricate plan in motion. He makes sure their bags are filled with food, though not without accusing them of spying, and later, accusing Benjamin of stealing a silver goblet. His trickster motivations are more complex than they appear. While we do not see a resolution to the brothers’ drama in this week’s text, we are seeing Joseph’s assuredness that creating obstacles for his brothers is some sort of path to teshuvah, or “return.” A return to right relation, a return to each other.

How can we be so sure that Joseph holds out any hope of teshuvah?

Perhaps the most subtle yet important parts of the story are when Joseph weeps. Twice he weeps. When he hears his brothers speak of him at the grain stores, acknowledging their wrongdoing, he turns his face to cry. Then, when he sees his brother, Benjamin, he is overcome with emotion. This reaction tells us he has love for them—a love that transcends their complicated history.

Joseph’s tears also tell us that dreams coming true can be tender, messy work for the heart.

As our year draws to a close, we reflect. A lot happened. There are many examples of events that surely seem as if they came out of a dream. Were we dutiful and certain? Were we in need of an interpreter? Were we striving for teshuvah? Were we simply looking to buy some grain to get us through?

Joseph’s experience reminds us to pay attention to dreams so we can be more present in our reality. Dreams are where our greatest joys and potential lie in wait, right alongside our greatest fears and hurts. Dreams are where abundance and famine can both reside, where love and past wounds collide.

So, be prepared for your dreams—like Joseph was for the wildest ones he may have dared to imagine. And like we have been throughout this unprecedented year.

After all, when dreams come true, the wonder of what we truly can do makes itself known.

Shabbat shalom.

Isabel Mares is the program manager, Development and Arts and Culture, at JCC Association of North America.

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