By Rabbi Nancy Morris, December 23, 2008

“Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it’” Genesis 41:15

Joseph quickly states the main biblical idea with regard to dreams — that it is God who speaks through them. But the story also makes clear that there is good, effective dream interpretation such as that offered by Joseph, and interpretation that is not so good, like that given by Pharaoh’s wise men.

There are two insights that say much about both good dream interpretation, and also about our destiny and role as a diaspora people. Rabbi Harvey J. Fields, of Los Angeles, attributes Joseph’s great success as dream interpreter to his special listening skills. He was, unlike the Egyptian wise men, capable of “hearing” Pharaoh’s unique experience. He listened not just to the words, but to the emotion behind the words. Thus, he was able to come up with an original insight rather than an accepted theory or explanation.

His brilliant innovation was to see the two dreams, not as separate prophecies, but as “one and the same”. Also, he was also able to transform the dreams into a very real project for evading the worst of the hardship to come – hence, his example of great leadership and good governance. Another insight is that Joseph was capable of hearing the message of the dream because he was the ultimate outsider – it was this that was behind his ability to avoid the accepted theories. He was a Hebrew, a slave, a prisoner, outside his own nuclear family. It took the presence of these qualities for a person to be able to stand outside and assess the situation.

We are now in the midst of celebrating Chanucah, the basis of which could be seen as the story of ultimate outsiders, rejecting the seductions of the Hellenistic world for a deeper, more eternal truth and fighting for a vision of a world that should be. Could our history as a diaspora, “outsider” people help make us better-placed to “hear” the fundamental problems of our contemporary world and provide us the insight to know how to fight for a vision of a world that we know should be — and with that insight could be?

Last updated: 11:11am, December 23 2008