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Kehillat Israel Rabbi Emeritus
Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.

Miketz - Hanukah (Genesis 41:1-44:17)

Everybody dreams. Research suggests that every one of us has as many as four to six dreams each night lasting between five to twenty minutes each.  To put that in a more powerful perspective, it means that during a typical lifetime people spend an average of as much as six years dreaming. Just think of all the dreams we conjure up in our subconscious day in and day out - dreams that defy gravity and the laws of nature, dreams that bring together past and future, dreams that transcend physical reality and reflect the full range of emotions from joy and happiness to anxiety and fear.  Dreaming is such a universal phenomenon that every culture in the world has folk literature themes in which dreaming plays a prominent role.

It is certainly no surprise that dreams and their interpretation are such a significant part of the stories that make up the Torah.  When Jacob is running away from his brother Esau for fear that he would be killed for stealing Esau's birthright and blessings from their father Isaac, he lies down exhausted at night with a rock for a pillow and dreams of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending.  In his dream God stands beside the ladder and promises to keep him safe on his journey and watch over him until he returns home again.  Who wouldn't want to dream of safety and protection at a time like that? Jacob wakes and proclaims, "God was in this place and until my dream I didn't even recognize it."  From Jacob's dream we learn the precious lesson that holiness and divinity can be found anywhere if our minds, and hearts, and souls are open to experiencing the sacred all around us.

When we first meet Joseph in last week's portion he is the young, brash dreamer who in his own dreams sees himself lording it over his older brothers and envisions himself as the center of a celestial constellation with his entire family bowing down to him as the sun, moon and stars.  The anger and resentment that his brothers feel toward Joseph that leads them to throw him into a pit and sell him into slavery is very much a result of the arrogant way in which he throws his dreams in their faces.  By this week's portion, that same Joseph, having been enslaved and imprisoned has already learned to be much more humble and much more thoughtful in how he interprets the content of dreams.  When Pharaoh has dreams he cannot understand, it is Joseph who explains them in such a way as to win Pharaoh's favor, demonstrate his own wisdom and become elevated to a position of authority and power.  The transformation of Joseph from arrogant spoiled child to thoughtful, wise adult sets up the conditions through which he becomes the instrument of salvation for both Pharaoh and Egypt and the very brothers who were once filled with such jealousy that they despised him.

So here we are thousands of years later in another time and place, in the midst of celebrating Hanukah, our first recorded struggle for religious freedom.  Hanukah, too, is about dreaming.  Dreaming of a world at peace in which everyone is able to celebrate and worship as they choose.  A world where dignity and respect is given to all, regardless of gender or color, language or culture, age or economic status.  That, for me is the promise of Hanukah, the lights of freedom, the celebration of the triumph of human dignity and the recognition that every human being is created with the same spark of divinity in the image of God and worthy of spiritual self-worth and respect.  This year in particular, as we recall so many instances of brutality and violence here in America and across the world, may we rededicate ourselves to fulfilling the dreams we all share of a world where all children grow up knowing that what they say and what they do and who they are really matters.


Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., is Rabbi Emeritus of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, California. He is a nationally recognized expert in the field of moral education and is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Micah Award for founding the largest full-service homeless shelter in Los Angeles. He is also a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award from the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Steven has contributed to a wide variety of publications as an author and composer. He has written numerous books, including Raising Children in a Contemporary World (1992); Raising Ethical Children (Prima Publishing, 1994).

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Tue, December 11 2018 3 Tevet 5779