Commentary on Parashat Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
We all dream. And sometimes our dreams come true. A dream come true is a wonderful thing, almost too good to be true. But there are times when the fulfillment of a dream is so different than what we thought it would be. When it finally comes to pass, times have changed, we have changed, and so have circumstances. Or it may just be that we never really understood what we were dreaming about, we never fathomed the full implications of our dreams. Reality, it turns out, is so much more complicated than the stuff that dreams are made of.
Sarah our beloved matriarch had hoped to become a mother just like any other newlywed. When it took a bit longer she prayed and she cried and she dreamt. The years passed and the dream remained with her. When God brought her dream to fruition after so many years and Isaac was born, she was a different woman than the one she had been so many years earlier. She had never dreamed of being the mother of a newborn at the age of 90. The very fulfillment of her dream turned out to be more of a challenge that a honeymoon. Isn’t it so often like that? Not that she — or we — wouldn’t want to be blessed by the fulfillment of the dream at such a late stage, it’s just that that which could have been so sweet … is more like bittersweet.
Dreams fulfilled often place our lives in a wholly new and unexpected context. When his brothers are prostrate before him like so many sheaves of wheat, Joseph’s youthful dream is now reality. But it is not like he had thought it would be. What had seemed to so many years ago to be a sure promise of power and prestige is completely reframed. His is the one sheaf of wheat still standing, and upon him is thrust the burden of seeing to the sustenance of the entire extended family. The surrounding sheaves are not so much subservient to him as they are dependent upon him for their very survival.
Joseph rises to the challenge. His abandons the childish interpretation of his childhood dreams and instead applies himself to feeding the hungry sheaves that have now appeared before him.
Grappling with unimagined responsibility suddenly placed upon us is not the only challenge that fulfilled dreams sometimes ask us to confront.
The consummation of our dreams paradoxically takes them away from us. When dreams become reality, they are no longer dreams. When our own good fortune forces us to move from the realm of lofty aspirations to the nitty-gritty of reality, we are liable to neglect to replace our old dreams with new ones. Too often, we forget how to dream.
But we must forever keep dreaming. It behooves us always to live a life with vision, no matter how many dreams have been fulfilled. We must always treasure yet-to-be fulfilled dreams.
Joseph kept dreaming. Little did he know as a youth that his dreams foretold the immigration of the whole covenanted clan to the Land of Egypt. But when that came to pass, he embraced it and its challenges while cherishing a new dream. As his end draws near, he reveals the innermost vision that had been pulsating through his heart.
“God will certainly redeem you” says he to his brethren on his deathbed, “and He will bring you up from this land to the Land that he swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. And then he adds, “Make sure to take my bones from here” when you leave. The man who left the Land of Israel at the age of 17, and then brought his whole family into exile with him, always nurtured the hope of return.
For Joseph, reality had quickly caught up with his dreams, but that had only set the stage for further dreams. There is no other way.