“And Pharaoh dreamed” Genesis 41.1

By Rabbi Brian Fox, December 17, 2009

A question: who wrote “Oyb ihr vilt, is dos nit kyn bobe-mayse”? Before we answer (no peeking!), it is appropriate to recall that around 111 years ago much of the Yiddish-speaking world was inspired by the poetry of Morris Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld was a born loser. No matter where he went, from one centre of Jewish life to another, for him all of Jewish life was past. Dreams belonged to “the other”, the Pharaohs of history. At best we, Josephs all, could only interpret other people’s dreams.

Nonetheless “the Poet Laureate of Labour” (as he was known) entered the very soul of the Jewish people and our earthiness, our rootlessness and, from time to time, even our hope. We read his Chanucah lichtlach and the pathos moves us: “O you little candles, you tell us stories... of intrepid deeds, of wonders past. When I see you flickering, comes a fancy fluttering, speaks an old dream; ‘Jew you have battled once; Jew you have conquered once!’… My heart is stirred, and with tears I ask: what will be anon?”

Indeed: “what anon?” Who would know from this that at that time there was a serious presence of Jews in Palestine, that the Second Zionist Congress had opened in Basle and that Herzl himself could write “I fervently believe the time is very close when the Jewish people will be very definitely on the march?”

Mikketz is the parashah of dreams. Within half a century of Rosenfeld’s tortured prose, the state of Israel had been established. Who wrote our opening quote? None other than Theodore Herzl himself. The important point is that he probably wrote it not in the Yiddish of above but in German (Wenn ihr volt. Ist es kein Märchen) and, most important of all, many JC readers know it neither in Yiddish nor in German but in modern Hebrew: Im tirtzu ein zo aggadah, “If you will it, it is not a dream.” And that is because the Zionist dream has, by and large, been fulfilled.

Last updated: 11:06am, December 17 2009