Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayeshev
To dedicate this lesson

Dreams & Reality


Rabbi Berel Wein

Kislev 5768
There is a difference - to put it mildly - that is outlined clearly between Yosef and his brothers in this week’s parsha. Yosef is the quintessential dreamer, his head in the stars and his youthful exuberance and certainty in the truthful outcome of his dreams becomes very irritating to his brothers. Since his head is in the clouds in a world of Eisav and Shechem the brothers feel it to be the height of impracticality if not even irresponsibility to be a dreamer. The brothers have their feet firmly implanted on the ground, in the reality of the world that they exist in with clear recognition of the dangers and threats inherent therein. Yosef feels the brothers to have been unjust for rejecting his dreams immediately and they in turn are convinced that he and his dreaming constitute a veritable danger to the unity and survival of Yaakov’s family. It is not only the contents of Yosef’s dreams - that he will dominate the family - that disturb the brothers. It is the fact that he is dreaming at all that raises their suspicions and fuels their enmity towards him. In the struggle between Yosef and the brothers the conflict between the lofty and inspirational theory of Judaism and its sometime mundane practice, of hope and actual reality, of what can be achieved even though it is not exactly what one dreamt of achieving. The conflict between Yosef and his brothers is never really ended. It is compromised by both sides recognizing the validity of the position of the other and living with that reality.
The Jewish people in its long and difficult history have somehow been able to combine the spirit and dreams of Yosef with the hardheaded realism of his brothers. Both traits are necessary for our survival and accomplishments, both as an individual and as a nation. Someone without dreams and ambition, who refuses to reach heavenward and conquer the stars, will never be a truly creative or original person. But if this drive is not tempered by a realistic sense of the situation and society that surrounds us, then all dreams are doomed to eventually disappoint. Yosef’s dreams are realized only after he has been severely chastened by his brothers’ enmity, slavery and imprisonment in Egypt and a contest of wills with the brothers even after he seemingly has them in his grasp. Again, Yosef’s dreams are finally realized but only after he has been subjected to many hard years of unpleasant reality. The brothers, realists to the end, are shocked to see that the dreamer has emerged triumphant. The dreamer saves the world from famine while the realists end up being his customers. Thus the Torah teaches us that we need both dreamers and realists within our ranks. A nation built exclusively on dreams without practical reality intruding will find that practical reality rising to foil the realization of the dream. A nation that ceases to dream of reaching greater heights will stagnate and not survive. So, both the brothers and Yosef are "right" in their pursuit of nation building and spiritual growth. We need a healthy dose of both values and views in our Jewish world today as well.
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