I’m Dreaming of a Bright Chanukah by Eve Levy
I’m Dreaming of a Bright Chanukah
This is the one Shabbat of the year when we have both the Chanukah candles and the Shabbat candles to light up our hearts and our souls. It’s just beautiful!
A mood of celebration and high hope is in the air. We pray and dream for miracles during this time as we say “Bayamim hahem bazman hazeh,” Just as You made miracles in those days, so too shall You make miracles in our days. As we light our menorahs and watch the flames dance, we remember that it's a time to pray and dream big. Rebbetzen Yemima Mizrachi said that at the auspicious time of candlelighting this Shabbat, we must imagine all of the salvations that we are waiting for.
The candle looks like the Hebrew vowel known as the cholam, which has the same root as the word chalom (dream). The cholam is placed above the letter, signifying something above nature. We must believe in the miracles that G-d can bring at any moment. David Ben Gurion once said, “A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.” Our existence is nothing short of a miracle. Jewish people believe in miracles.
But what is it about dreams that we find so fascinating? A good dream can make us so hopeful while a bad dream can send us into uncertainty and anxiety. They feel so real that they can be difficult to shake off.
Judaism says that dreams are very real. The Talmud states that dreams are 1/60th of prophecy (Brachot 57b). But the part I find most reassuring is that the Talmud tells us the interpretation of a dream depends on the explanation given by the interpreter. Meaning, we are in charge! Think good and it will be good. Look at the dream and interpret it for the good. The Talmud writes that a dream that is not interpreted is compared to an unread letter (Brachot 55a). It can’t go anywhere without interpretation.
It is no coincidence that the Shabbat of Chanukah coincides with a series of dreams in the weekly Torah portions. Last week, we read about Joseph and his two prophetic dreams symbolizing that he would one day become king and his brothers and father would one day bow to him. Then we learned about the dreams of Pharaoh's royal butler and baker. This week, we hear about Pharaoh's own dreams, about seven thin cows swallowing seven fat cows, and seven emaciated wheat stalks swallowing seven healthy stalks.
Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams to mean that seven years of famine will follow seven years of plenty. He advises Pharaoh to store grain during the good years, thereby saving the economic situation of Egypt. Joseph’s interpretations gain him tremendous respect and power in the Egyptian kingdom.
What is the Torah trying to teach us from these dreamy episodes? Do they have anything to do with Chanukah?
Back in last week’s Torah portion, how did young 17-year-old Joseph react to his lofty dreams of his brothers and father bowing down to him? Did he ignore them? On the contrary, he took them very seriously. Joseph believed that one day he would truly be a monarch, and he began to prepare for that day. The brothers felt Joseph was their father’s favorite son, but neither their resentment nor their anger changed Joseph’s belief that his dream would one day come true.
Even during the years he languished in prison, Joseph never gave up the belief that one day his dreams would be fulfilled. In a similar vein, the Chanukah story also carries this wonderful message.
The army of the great and powerful Assyrian Greeks had overwhelmed the world and spread their Greek gods through idol worship. They forbade fundamental practices of Judaism such as the brit milah (circumcision), Torah study and Shabbat. They said, "There is no such thing as holiness or purity." They defiled our holy temple.
The Jewish nation appeared to be doomed. Who would or could stand up to the great Greek power? But a few Jews, however, retained a dream. Yochanan and his holy sons had a vision that one day the Greeks would be expelled from Jerusalem and the menorah would once again be lit in its holiness and spendour. Despite being outnumbered, Yochanan and his Maccabees recaptured and re-dedicated the temple, and even though they only found enough oil for one night – it would take eight days to make more pure oil – they lit the menorah with excitement as though dedicating the temple for the first time. And then miraculously, that one day’s worth of oil burned for eight days.
In our own lives, we all have dreams. It’s sad that, when faced with challenges, we often give up on those dreams. Let us learn from Joseph and from the Maccabees. Let us live with the belief that dreams can be fulfilled. G-d will make it happen. As in those days, so too in ours!
We are nearing the end of the book of Bereishit (Genesis). The Torah has introduced us to the creation of the world, of man and woman. We have been introduced to our patriarchs and matriarchs. Now, we are about to move into the next chapter of the Torah, the creation of the nation of Israel.
The formation of Israel was destined to take place in Egypt. It was Joseph who, via his dreams, was able to lay the groundwork for the nation that eventually emerged.
At the recent JWRP Leadership Conference, we had a moving session about sharing our stories. We had to pull out some powerful memories and share them. As part of the exercise, we had to think up a future memory. All I could hear in the large room of hundreds of women was the scratch of our pens as we poured our hearts and dreams onto paper. In a room of passionate JWRP sisters, the energy was electrifying! Lori Palatnik shared her future memory: “I am standing on the rooftop of the Claman home. … I am surrounded by the Utah 8 and countless JWRP women as we watch the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash (our holy temple). We have done it."
So dream big this Shabbat Chanukah! May Lori’s beautiful dream and all of your dreams come true.
Eve Levy is a JWRP City Leader from Portland, Oregon.