These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Dreams and Designation

Posted on November 28, 2010 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

I hope you are all doing well. Hard to believe that I’ve recently celebrated my second Thanksgiving (both in Israel!) and that Channukah is around the corner. Time is really flying by – but I guess that’s a good sign! This week, I’d like to dedicate these words of Torah to my Zaidy, Leo Wolynetz, on the occasion of his 84th birthday. May he continue to inspire me to actualize my dreams and model the management of those of others!

Last week, when I was reviewing the parsha, there were SO many things that came to mind and I felt were worth sharing. But I decided to choose a particular undertone of the parsha, which, in my humble opinion, is often unacknowledged within stories of Joseph and his brothers.

If I had to sum up the saga between Joseph and his family very briefly, I would say it is about DREAMS and DESIGNATION.

What do I mean?

Last week’s parsha, Vayeshev, begins the series of narratives about, as the musical calls it, “Jacob and Sons”. (I will try to bring in as many references to the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” as I can!) Immediately, the Torah tells us that Joseph speaks ill of his brothers and that he is singled out from the rest of them as he is loved by his father. Putting aside many of the explanations behind the descriptions given to Joseph and the significance of his ktonet hapasim, his special coat, it is clear that tension is rising among the siblings. Without pointing fingers as to who is at fault here — whether Jacob for explicitly favouring his son, Joseph for flaunting his elevated status and abilities, or the brothers for dismissing and discarding responsibility for Joseph — without a doubt there are conflicts of interest here. Each party has its own agenda and is seeking to actualize its vision for what should be. In this vein, the image of the brothers as shepherds and the sheep is instructive of the dynamic between the brothers; they are constantly struggling to designate who among them is the ‘sheep’ and who will lead as the ‘shepherd’ (Gen 37:12-13). Joseph believes that his dreams of surpassing his brothers will and must come to fruition; Jacob believes that Joseph should be exalted among his children; and the brothers claim “We’re great guys but no-one seems to notice!” (musical reference!)

But I think the conflict is best expressed in the text, as the brothers do not want Joseph to remain the ba’al chalomot, master of dreams. (Gen. 37:19)

In other words, this family is attempting to manage a tug-of-war of its members and their ambitions. Everyone wants to bring to life his/her desires and needs, and express those individually. However, this can only be done if there is mutual understanding and respect for one another, in addition to creating space for all and maybe knowing when to follow (like sheep) instead of spearhead.

It seems to me that the message of the parsha may resonate with our experiences as well. Many of our family members, friends and communities see the world differently than us. They see their abilities and roles as unique and wish to share them with others. But so do we! Now, if each of us feels as though s/he is competing with one another for resources, space and support, none of us will get very far. And so, I think the challenge of the parsha, as reflected in the story of Jacob’s family, is to figure out HOW to allocate roles and distribute power without quashing individual dreams.

And yet, sometimes I wonder: Is this narrative suggesting that some dreams are more real or important than others? After all, although Joseph is exiled from his family, he does eventually rule over his brothers, once they go down to Egypt! Or, is there a way to actualize multiple visions for the future, while some might undermine others?

I’d like to think that instead of (secretly or openly) plotting against one another, we would be better served if we were to share our visions for our relationships, professional lives, communities, and more largely, our visions for the State of Israel and the world. The key is to share our dreams so that we can designate time and place and appropriate roles for everyone, some more powerful than others.

This model especially speaks to me in light of some recent powerful experiences I’ve had in meeting with Palestinians in Bethlehem last week, accompanying a friend in the midst of an Orthodox conversion to meet with the Bet Din (rabbinical court) in Israel, and on a very personal level trying to navigate professional goals which might conflict with my colleagues’ hopes. The list goes on…

So the questions remain:

How do we share our dreams and delegate roles to enable them without suppressing the aspirations of others?
And when do we follow the lead of others?

I’m not sure the parsha gives us any guidance in answering this question….
I welcome your feedback!

Shavua tov,