Community Rabbi Corner, Dec. 20, 2019

Rabbi Howard Tilman
Congregation Beth Israel
Scotch Plains, NJ
Parashat Vayeishev

How many songs can you think of that have to do with dreams? Go on, I’ll wait.
There are a lot aren’t there? Dreams are something that we all connect with and also use to inspire ourselves. As Theodore Herzl famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Dreams not only inspire us today, but they play an important role throughout the Book of Genesis. Jacob famously dreamed of a ladder ascending into the heavens. This week, as we read Parashat Vayeishev, dreams again take center stage. Joseph has two dreams that set off the action and get him in trouble, but it is his skill with interpreting dreams that leads him out of trouble. But is it Joseph’s skill or God’s?
When he finds himself in prison with Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, he tells them, “Surely God can interpret your dreams, tell them to me.” (Gen 40:8) Likewise, in Parashat Miketz, that we’ll read next week (spoiler alert), Joseph tells Pharoah, “Not I (will interpret your dreams) God will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.” (Gen 41:16) In both instances, Joseph emphasizes God’s role in his important skill.
It’s fitting that these portions are always read around the time of Hanukkah. We can think of the Hanukkah story as emphasizing both the roles of God and the Maccabees themselves. The Maccabees led a revolt and an uprising against the Greeks. God performed the miracle of the oil and allowed the lights to shine for eight days. Without both of these roles, we would not celebrate Hanukkah in the ways we do today. This is part of the reminder of Hanukkah as well as Vayeishev – we need to celebrate both the roles of people and God in our own lives and throughout Jewish history.
May this holiday of Hanukkah help us shine light and continue to be proud of who we are at the darkest time of the year.