Yosef’s dreams are realized in this week’s Torah reading. His brothers kneel before him, his father comes down to Egypt to witness his greatness and power, and he correctly sees himself as the leader and savior of his family. But like many dreams that are realized, Yosef’s triumph is tinged with bittersweet emotions. Yosef weeps and does not laugh in joy at his moment of supreme triumph. Too many years have intervened between the dreams of the gifted teenager and their fulfillment when he is a mature adult. Too much pain has been inflicted upon all of the members of the family for Yosef to feel full contentment at the final unfolding of the affair. And Yosef is aware of the residual undercurrent of bitterness and suspicion that his brothers still harbor towards him. The dreams have been realized, the myth has been fulfilled, but the victory has been very costly and thus the Yosef’s cup is still not full. It will never be full. Such is the course of life. No fulfillment of any of our dreams ever lives up to the promise of the dream itself. Joy is usually found in anticipation, rarely in realization.
It is precisely the understanding of this sober truth of life that allows Yosef to become a greater hero in our eyes, after his dreams have been actualized, than he was before their fulfillment. He is now sensitive to his brothers in a fashion that was not present earlier in his attitude and behavior towards them. He realizes how empty his triumph is, if his brothers still despise him and are frightened of his talents and leadership qualities. He therefore “speaks to their hearts,” supports them physically and emotionally, and attempts to rebuild the house of Yaakov in unity and serenity and equality. The very accomplishment of the dream changes its message to Yosef. He no longer wishes to dominate but only to lead and help. His arrogance has dissipated and has been replaced by sober humility. Age, experience, life itself, has taken its toll on the once over-confident youth. Yosef now realizes that there was another part to his dreams that he had not originally anticipated – the part that demanded responsibility, care for others and magnanimity. Yosef sees that the dream is greater than the reality and that all dreams must be continually pursued for none of them are realized in their entirety in our human lives.
In our generation, a number of seemingly impossible dreams of the Jewish people have come to actual life. The existence of a strong and prosperous Jewish state in the Land of Israel; a strong, affluent and astoundingly influential Jewish presence in the Diaspora; a rededication to Torah learning and tradition in large numbers and great quality, all are the realization of ancient dreams of the Jewish people. Yet, the realization of each of these dreams has brought with it the understanding that our cup is also not full. Many unseen problems and surprising disappointments have accompanied the fulfillment of these dreams. The Jewish State is far from perfect, the Diaspora is rapidly committing spiritual and national suicide because of its rates of intermarriage and assimilation, and the Torah community is beset by many serious internal and external problems. Yes, our dreams have come true, but the Jewish world is still far from being a joyous society. Like Yosef, we need greater maturity, more sensitivity towards others, a larger sense of humility and less certainty and triumphalism, in order to reassess our dreams and continue to attempt to improve upon them. A people cannot live and grow without dreams. And the dreams should always be greater than the eventual reality. But all of our dreams should carry a warning on their packages. The realization is not the end of the dream. Many times it is only its beginning and the process of the realization of the dream is perhaps never-ending. It seems clear that such is the will of our Creator as seen through all of the events of human and Jewish history. May we prove worthy of our great dreams.
Rabbi Berel Wein