Last Shabat afternoon I lay down on my bed and took my traditional Shabat afternoon rest. I slept more soundly than usual and I dreamt a dream that was so visibly etched in my mind that I awoke with a start. The dream was about a sermon that I was somehow going to give that Shabat in the synagogue. My subconscious completely neglected the fact that I had already delivered my immortal sermon for that Shabat in the morning services a number of hours earlier. But the dream was so real to me that when I awoke I looked at my watch.
The watch read 2:50 PM but under the influence of the dream I saw it as reading 8:50 AM. I exclaimed to my wife, “I am late for the synagogue services!” My wife gave me that long-suffering look that only wives know how to perfect and said sweetly, “It is only ten minutes to three in the afternoon and I have do not know what you are talking about.” Shocked out of my reverie by her astute observation I realized that even when I awoke and jumped out of bed, I was essentially still dreaming. And I also realized once more that it is a very thin line indeed that separates one’s self from dreams and reality. In fact, dreams sometimes are better indicators of reality than is so-called reality itself. We are taught by Jewish tradition that prophecy itself reaches humans through the medium of dreams. And prophecy certainly turns into ultimate reality.
We read in Psalms that when God restores the exile of Zion we will view it as though in a dream. The real truth is that the survival of the Jewish people over the millennia of exile and persecution is nothing less than a wild dream. And the dream of a Jewish sovereign state in the Land of Israel was held to be an impossible dream by many Jews and certainly by the “experts” in politics and international relations. But these dreams were realities. And it was the genius of the Jew that always saw them as reality and not only as far-fetched hopes and wild schemes.
In the eighteenth century, Rabbi Nachman of Breslav typified this dream/reality situation of the believing Jew when he stated, “Every step in life that I take is towards Jerusalem.” And so, for his followers, that is how it turned out to be centuries later. Our father Jacob dreamt a great dream on his way to an uncertain future in the house of Lavan. The dream however was so real to him that all of his life was influenced by it. To a great extent, that dream has remained the dream and the sense of reality of his descendants until our very day.
Jews never gave up on the dream of Zion and Jerusalem; no matter where they lived and no matter how unlikely – in fact impossible – the possible reality that that dream could be fulfilled in actuality. The brothers of Joseph mocked him, saying, “Here comes the dreamer.” But the dreamer was the realist and not the practical-minded brothers.
Part of what ails the Jewish world today, both here in Israel and in the Diaspora as well, is the absence of great dreams. We are so sunk into the difficult situations that we face that we have forgotten to dream. Post-zionism has robbed us of the dream of Zion and Jerusalem rebuilt, united from within and spiritually and physically secure. Secularism has devastated the great dreams of Israel, the traditions of Sinai and the sanctity of the Torah, which alone has preserved us to this moment in our story.
The political infighting is so fierce and loud that we no longer hear each other, let alone be able to listen to one another. Without dreams, reality becomes almost too difficult to deal with intelligently and confidently. It is only the ability to dream and to believe in our dreams that sweeten the bitter and smooth the hurdles in our path.
Just as every individual needs private dreams and aspirations to move ahead and succeed in life, so too does a nation require such great dreams and to be able to dream together collectively and hopefully. In our time, leadership must be defined in the dream for the nation that is being articulated and projected. The mission of Israel as expressed in the Torah and the words of the prophets – a holy people, a light unto the nations, etc. – is a realizable one. But only if we will dream in those terms and work towards those goals.