Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tikun HaOlam

'You may say that I'm a dreamer - but I'm not the only one.'

This is a rather famous line from the John Lennon song, Imagine. And though that song eschews religion among other things - if one can get past that one can see that he is really asking for is Tikun HaOlam - a sincere wish for world peace and brotherhood. This is still an elusive dream that is perhaps more relevant today than when it was written in back in the 70’s.

John Lennon was not the only dreamer. There were other even more famous dreamers. They are mentioned in the Torah. Yosef HaTzadik was one such dreamer. And he too was not the only one mentioned in the Torah.

Yosef did not only dream dreams, he interpreted them. Much of last week’s - and this week’s Torah portion revolves around dreams and Yosef’s intepretaion of them.

Rav Ahron Soloveichik has an interesting perspective on this in his book, The Warmth and the Light on this upon which the following is based.

Sigmund Freud described the significance of dreams. He tells us that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interprate them. Dreams he tells us reveal ‘a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned a specific place of the psychic activities of the waking state.’ (Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams).

Yosef was able to interpreter the dreams of the Sar HaMashkin – the butler, and the Sar Ha’Ofim – the baker as reflective of their inner character The dream state releases the unconscious and real thoughts and motivations of an individual who suppresses them in the waking state. Actions in the waking state do not as accurately reveal one’s true character.

The butler dreamt of co-operation and harmony; of progress and building; of blossoms and ripe fruit. Yosef was thus able to discern that the butler was of noble character and would be re-instated by Pharaoh to his fromer postion.

The Baker dreamt of birds eating bread out of baskets that rested on his own head. It revealed a resentment towrd society that was concealed in his waking state. As a defense mechanism, he blamed society for his own personal failings. He suffered from a persection complex. Who in society usually experiences such a phenomenon? The criminal! The criminal always feels that everyone discriminates against him and resents society for it. Yosef deduced that the baker must have committed a serious offense for which Pharoah woul not forgive him and would probably be executed.

Chazal (our sages) in fact also say that the butler and baker’s dreams can be explained according to their unconscious interpretation. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peaschim 10:1) mentions that one of the reasons we drink 4 cus of wine at the Pesach Seder is because of the 4 times the cup of Pharaoh is mentioned in the ream of the butler and its interpretation by Yosef.

The connection between the butler’s dream, the four cups of wine on Pesach, and the redemption of the Jews from Egypt is as follows.

The Butler was in reality nothing more than Pharoah’s chief butler and not a Navi – a prophet. We cannot understand the Gemarah in in a literal sense. Rather Yosef realized that the butler was of noble character. He was one of the righteous gentiles and an idealist. He dreamed of a better world. By commemorating the dream of the butler, we are in a sense acknowledging the righteous Gentile’s vision of redemption.

Everyone is to a certain extent a dreamer. But there are two additional categories of dreamers. One type is the dreamer who dreams of escape from his unhappy status quo. He will fantasize about a better life as a means of escape. The other is one who is not satisfied with escape. Although he too is dissatisfied with the status quo, he utilizes his dreams –not as a means of escape – but as basis to change reality. If one wishes to find joy in life one cannot find it by escaping in a dream. One can only find true happiness by working to change things - starting with oneself.

The Kesones Pasim that Yakov made for Yosef was a garment of distinction. Yosef’s brothers became jealous of the recognition bestowed upon Yosef by their father, Yaakov. As a result they hated Yosef and increased their hatred after Yosef related to them his dreams – telling them how he was going to ‘change the world’.

The world generally hates dreamers especially those who want to act upon those dreams by trying to change the world. When a dreamer tells people of those plans the hatred ususally increases.

Yosef dreamt of a better world. We may deduce from that dreaming to improve the world – Tikun HaOlam - is an essential attribute of the Jewish people.

Unfortunately this important piece of the Jewish pie has been co-opted by the Conservative and Reform Movements. Rarely does one find Orthodox Jews involved in Tikun HaOlam. It seems as though the more right wing Orthodox one is, the less likely one will find him involved in such things – with all kinds of excuses.

But it should not be left to the non-Orthodox alone.