Ba’al Ha’Chalomot: Keepers of the Dreams

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Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Karen Erlichman connects Joseph’s prophetic dreams with his inner moral compass, and urges queer Jews to remain similarly true to their inner selves.

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Joseph and his coat of many colors. Creative Common/Brian Kolstad

Creative Common/Brian Kolstad

They saw him from afar, and before he came close to them they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer [ba’al ha’chalomot]! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we can say, ‘a savage beast [chaya ra’ah] devoured him.’ We shall see what comes of his dreams!” —Genesis 37:18-20

This week’s parasha, Vayeshev, focuses on the story of Joseph, a dreamer and a visionary who was reviled and exiled by his own siblings. He shared his spiritual gifts with those around him, risking his own life to speak Divine Truth. Guided by an inner spiritual compass, Joseph’s clarity of vision and purpose guided him in every moment, even when faced with an unrequited offer of seduction from a woman, or a near-death experience at the hands of his own brothers.

Parashat Vayeshev is profoundly relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Jews. Many of us can recall our first feelings of being outsiders – an intuitive sense that we were somehow different. Whether uniquely gendered, or whether we fell in love or lust with another person of the same gender, like Joseph our inner compass was guiding us to a deeply felt inner truth, a dream or vision of our truest selves. Parashat Vayeshev illuminates several encounters in which Joseph makes surprising choices or decisions, except when viewed through the queer lens.