Monday, December 12, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

Parshat VaYeshev
21 Kislev 5772 / December 16-17, 2011
Bereshit 37:1 – 40:23

Dream a Little Dream
by Sarah Lesser, Director of Repair the World Programming

“Dreaming or awake, we perceive only events that have meaning to us.”
Jane Roberts

“Dreams are the touchstones of our character.”
Henry David Thoreau

Reading this week’s parsha I’m struck by the recurring importance of dreams in foreseeing the future of the dreamer. However, they seem to hold no fortune-telling value without outside interpretation.
What is the significance that the dreamer’s future lies in their own dreams? What does this say about predestination or our ability to control our destiny? Is the power with the dreamer or the interpreter?

In the beginning of the parsha Joseph tells his brothers about a dream he had that they were binding sheaves in the field when suddenly his sheaf stood upright and all of his brother’s sheaves gathered around and bowed low to his sheaf. This made Joseph’s brothers hate him even more as they interpreted the dream as Joseph meaning to reign and rule over them. Was Joseph trying to make this dream a reality by relaying it to his brothers? Did their interpretation determine its meaning? Later on, Joseph’s father, Jacob, interprets his other dream. This time he dreamed that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing, down to him, This dream made everyone angry at him as his father interpreted it to mean that his whole family is to come bow down to Joseph.

Later in the parsha Joseph finds himself in prison in a strange land. His dream interpretation skills come in handy. Joseph, supposedly acting on behalf of G-d, offers to interpret the chief baker and chief cupbearer’s dreams when he is in prison in Egypt and they come to him. They express a sentiment that the dreamer is not able to interpret his/her own dreams when they say, “We had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." His interpretations indeed foretell the dreamers’ futures. Interestingly, the chief baker seems only willing to share his dream once he hears Joseph’s favorable interpretation of the royal cupbearer’s dream, signifying the influence such interpretation may hold in determining reality.

We have two ideas of dreams: that they are visions of the future, and windows into our unconscious. In this parsha, dreams are seen to represent the future of the dreamer, but their meaning is hidden to the dreamer and only available to interpretation by an outside observer. These biblical dreams are seen as prophecies. However, are those two ways of seeing dreams so different? Does not the power to affect your future lie in understanding yourself?

Joseph interprets the baker and cupbearer’s dreams; by doing so is he determining their future? We see how Joseph’s brothers’ and fathers’ interpretation of his dreams may directly be determining his own future as they sell him into slavery fueled by their dream-induced anger.

It’s a natural human inclination to want to see clues to our uncertain futures in many things, including dreams. In some ways, it can be harder to handle the idea that we have control over our future, because that means we have the power to make it awesome or screw it up. One can imagine that the pull towards pre-destination was even stronger in biblical days, when so much more in the world was not understood and seemed out of human control.

After the publication of Sigmund Freud’s, The Interpretation of Dreams, many people now see dreams as a window to the unconscious. In that way, the power may lie in knowing yourself. The dreamer who interprets her own dream takes the agency from an outside interpreter and takes control over her own destiny.


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