“And they said to one another, ‘Look! That dreamer is coming!.. let us kill him’” Genesis 37:19-20
We all have dreams. Whether you consider them to be neurological workings of the brain or messages from God, they are part of what it means to be human. They can inspire us and they can destroy us, sometimes both.
At times, our dreams are deeply threatening to those who hear them. Because this parashah usually falls close to Martin Luther King Day, I often find myself thinking of this great American civil rights leader while reading Vayeshev. Like Joseph, King was not a perfect man. Like Joseph, he shared a prophetic dream of the future. Like Joseph, his dreams were threatening to those around him.
Who can forget his impassioned “I have a dream” speech on the Washington Mall? He painted a picture of American society which was countercultural and visionary, exemplifying the biblical notion of the equality of all human beings. He was a modern-day Joseph, sharing a dream that caused cognitive dissonance to some and hope to others.
Because of the fact that both Joseph and Martin Luther King Jr are known for their dreams, my favourite modern midrash on the verse quoted above comes in the form of a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. This biblical verse about “the dreamer” serves as the inscription on the plaque on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee where the 39-year-old King was assassinated.
King died, but his dream lived on to be realised many years later. So, too, Joseph was given up for dead, but his dream lived on to be realised many years later. May both these dreamers inspire us about the power of dreams to transform the world.