I was tossing and turning in my sleep the other night, as I regularly do. My wife, lovingly hit me in the ribs and told me to stop. When I woke up the following morning, she asked why I had trouble sleeping. I explained that I slept fine and I was tossing and turning because I was part of a top secret black ops mission fighting terrorists. I few nights before that, I was a pirate, sailing the seven seas. Sometimes, I dream that I am living in a post-apocalyptic future. These dreams probably have less to do with my thoughts and more to do with the television shows I watch or book that I read before bed. Regardless of the reason for these dreams, I know how silly and strange they are. They make no sense. Yet, it isn’t until I wake up in the morning that I realize that it was only a dream. Often, days later, I begin to wonder if an experience actually happened or if it was just another crazy dream of mine. I have no doubt that the same is true for so many. We all dream, but how many of us are dreamers? I am not referring to those of us who close our eyes and enter into a fantasy world. Rather, I am referring to those of us who, while awake, while living our lives, while sitting right here, dream of and envision a better and brighter world. Those are the dreamers among us. But how many of us keep these dreams to ourselves or fight to make them a reality?
Most of us keep quiet. We have seen history. We know what happens to dreamers. President Abraham Lincoln made it his mission as president to reunite a country divided in a bloody civil war and to abolish the greatest disgrace of this country: slavery. Although the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery was passed, Lincoln was assassinated by confederate spy John Wilkes Booth who disagreed with Lincoln’s efforts to grant equal rights to all. Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of Indian Nationalism in then British-ruled India in the early 20th century. Using non-violent civil disobedience to have his dream of an independent India, without a caste system realized, he used hunger strikes as a means to make his dream a reality. He was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu Nationalist who believed Gandhi had weakened India. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream for civil rights, delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963. Five years later, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee because many didn’t want his dream realized. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, along with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, to bring peace to the Middle East. On November 4, 1995 while at a peace rally, Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Israeli extremist who was not interested in peace, who wanted to squash Rabin’s dream.
It often seems that the voice of the dreamer is never loud enough. Or finally, when it gets loud, it is silenced by the bullet, silenced by those who disagree.
The end of the book of Genesis, beginning with the Torah portion Parashat Vayeshev, introduces us to the narrative of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob’s other sons were already jealous of Joseph, believing that he was their fathers favorite child. When Joseph shared his dream with his brothers, this surely didn’t help matters. He dreamt that he would rule over his brothers, as the sheaf that stood upright while all other sheaves bowed down, with the sun and moon and stars bowing down to him as well. We tend to think that this is a selfish dream, a dream in which Joseph suggests he is better than his brothers, and that this is his way of sticking it to them. In the ancient near east, dreams weren’t a way of living in another world as a black ops navy seal or a pirate like I sometimes do. Dreams were an avenue of Divine communication. Joseph believed that his dreams were God’s will, and his dream to lead, his vision for a brighter and better future was as well. Joseph’s dream was that he would lead. It was his way of believing that he could do good and bring about good. We learn ultimately that despite the events of the parasha when he is thrown into a pit and almost killed, sold into slavery, and ultimately thrown in prison, nothing can stop him from achieving his goals. He believed that his leadership would help others and it does. This is not a selfish dream. Dreamers aren’t selfish. They sacrifice their own well-being for the betterment of others. In some cases, like those mentioned above, they sacrifice their lives. Joseph’s dream is supposed to remind us of our own dreams, our own visions for a better and brighter future.
Throughout the Festival of Hanukkah, we light the Hanukkiyah, the special Hanukkah Menorah. Using the shamash, the helper candle, we light the flames of the Hanukkiyah and ignite the spark within us. The way the calendar falls, we always read the story of Joseph right around Hanukkah. This is no accident. The story of dreamers, of believing that through our own action a bright and better future is possible, goes hand-in-hand with the festival that celebrates miracles. Unlike the Shabbat candles which we can use to help us see at the dark hour, we are taught that after lighting the Menorah, we cannot use the light of the candles. Instead, we place the Menorah in the window of our homes or outside the door for all who pass by to see. The Talmud teaches that we light the Menorah for the sake of pirsumei nisa, spreading the miracle, spreading the word of God’s great miracles, sharing these miracles with others.
The light of the Hanukkiyah is a hope for a better future, a reminder that as dark as the night is, we cannot let the light go out. Sometimes, it takes each of us spreading that light, spreading the miracle, to help reignite the spark within others. Spreading the light of Hanukkah is spreading our dreams and our visions. It is said that “in the darkest hour the soul is replenished and given strength to continue and endure.” So too, during the darkness of winter, at a time when we’ve awakened, given up on our dreams, the light of the Hanukkiyah replenishes our soul, allows us to dream again, to believe again. When we dream, we believe. When we dream, we have faith. To give up on our dreams, is to lack faith, is to be empowered by fear, is to be too afraid to speak up and share our dream with the world.
I am a dreamer. I dream of a better future, a better world than this. I dream of a world in which there is peace, a world in which we can live side-by-side with our neighbors, a world in which we are able to refer to those of different religions, races, and ethnicities as our brothers and sisters. I dream of a world in which we treat each other with the respect that as God’s children, made in God’s image, we each deserve, and I dream of a world in which we refuse to stand idly by and witness the injustices of poverty, of war, of bigotry, of hate. I am not afraid to share my dreams with you. I know that I alone cannot make these dreams a reality. I am just a dreamer, and like Joseph, maybe naïve to think that sharing my dreams with others will make a difference. Still, I share my dream hoping that it will become the dream of many, knowing that there are those in this world, maybe those in my own community, that disagree.
Joseph was aware that he may anger his brothers. That did not silence him. That did not silence his belief that he could do good and help others. So, I invite all of you to be dreamers. I invite all of you to dream of a better and brighter future; and I ask all of you to not remain silent. When we light the Menorah, we add a candle each and every night so that at the end of Hanukkah, we have a full candelabra with all candles lit. Rabbi Hillel suggested that we increase the amount of light each night because we must be ma’alin bakodesh, we must be elevated in holiness and sanctity. If we were to begin with eight candles and light one fewer each night, then we would be decreasing the amount of kedushah, of holiness in the moment and experience. So we are ma’alin bakodesh, and in doing so, we are further spreading the miracle of Hanukkah, the miracle of God, the miracle of action. It is easy to feel hopeless. It is easy to give up. It is easy to feel like our dreams are out of our reach, but the more we share these dreams, the more they too become elevated in holiness, the more they too become reality. So let us dream like Joseph and act like the Maccabees. Let us be a people of thought and a people of action. Let us create a nes gadol, a great miracle, in all of our lives.
– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky