The Hebrew Scriptures are not readily or easily understood by native English speakers, we post a weekly addition to regular Torah commentary. "Cutting to the Root" is intended to promote an understanding of the complexity of the Hebrew language and thereby gain a richer and deeper understanding of the Scriptures. It is our goal that these notes will teach tolerance and understanding.Please visit our web site at

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Parashat Miketz - the Haftara

Parashat Miketz – the Haftara
Zecharia 2:14- 4:7
Reading date: 27th December 2008 – 30th Kislev 5769

Our highlighted Haftara text
“Then Solomon woke; it was a dream!” I Kings 3:15
Do we 'wake up' from a dream or do we roll over and go back to sleep?
In our parasha, Joseph is recognized for his divine wisdom and appointed royal vizier to Pharaoh. Similarly, King Solomon is known for his wisdom demonstrated by his solving the case of the true mother with his test of threatening to cut the live baby in two. Both the parasha and the haftara begin with the king (or Pharaoh) awakening ‘vayikatz’ from a dream.

King Solomon, the son of King David reigned from 970 BCE to 928 BCE. Through marriage alliances and international treaties, Israel had extensive and close relations with neighboring countries that brought gold, spices and exotic animals. During his reign, Israel was a dominant political and economic force, with a flourishing agriculture (every person living safely and peaceably 'under their vine and fig tree'), spice trade and mining industry for valuable metals (copper, silver and brass). The prosperity of Solomon's reign, however, was short-lived, and after his death the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes seceded. The books of Song of Songs, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are traditionally ascribed to King Solomon. Although he was considered the 'wisest of men' and many Midrashim talk of the wonders of his powers and his monarchy, he was also an absolute monarch who dealt harshly with his subjects.

Dreams figure prominently in the Joseph narratives. Joseph is known as a dreamer, and last week, he had the dreams of being bowed down to by his brothers (which will come true this week) and interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the baker and the wine steward. This week, it is Pharaoh himself who has a (two-part) dream of 7 cows and 7 stalks of wheat (emmer- not corn, notwithstanding most children's books and the King James translation). Joseph had the uncanny ability to see the true messages within others' dreams. In the haftara, King Solomon, awoke from his dream where he had asked YHVH for wisdom instead of riches.

What exactly are dreams? Science hasn't yet adequately explained the phenomenon of dreaming, and dreams still fascinate us. Are they messages of the future, or simply the brain doing its housekeeping at night? The advice to 'sleep on it' refers to going to bed in the hope that overnight, we might find a solution to a problem or gain some insight that eludes us during the day and when we're awake. The scientist Kekulé is said to have discovered the arrangement of the benzene molecule, when he saw a chain of carbon atoms rotating in a circle, like a snake chasing its own tail in a dream. Other discoveries (like the sewing machine's needle) have been attributed to dreams, too.

In the ancient world, dreams were thought to be divine communication and were considered to be omens. However, dreams (both then and now) are largely symbolic and therefore require interpretation, called ‘oneiromancy’. The dream, like even the Torah, has little meaning without proper interpretation. (Today, dream interpretation 'dictionaries' are available online, but even in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, there existed 'dream books', that deciphered the images). But these have little value because the true meaning of the symbols in the dream relate to the individual's unique associations. Jung writes in Civilization in Transition, "The art of interpreting dreams cannot be learnt from books" (pg. 327).

It may be that in our 'collective consciousness' as a species, certain archetypes have specific meaning in our dreams, but more likely, it is our own private, personal associations that have significance. In a Midrash from Bereishit Rabbah, a man came to R. Jose ben Halafta, saying: "I was told in a dream to go to Kappadokia, where I should find the money of my deceased father." When the rabbi learned that the man (or anyone in his family) had never been to Kappadokia, he explained the dream as follows: "Count twenty beams in your house, and in the twentieth you will find the treasure, for 'Kappadokia' means [kappa=] "twenty" and [dokia=] "beams".
It is not the literal message of the dream (ie. going to Kappadokia) that is important, but the meaning assigned to it. Again, Jung writes of the danger of dream interpretation: "Every interpretation is an hypothesis, an attempt to read an unknown text. An obscure dream, taken in isolation, can hardly ever be interpreted with any certainty" quoted from "The Practical Use of Dream Analysis" (1934) in The Practice of Psychotherapy, pg. 322.

It was also believed that individuals could not accurately interpret their own dreams. Yet, the importance of understanding dreams was still deep-rooted in the time of the Talmud that 24 dream interpretation 'professionals' worked in Jerusalem. Jewish tradition is divided over the significance of dreams.

According to the Talmud, "The words of dreams neither benefit nor harm" (Gittin 52), and "We see at night in dreams only that of which we were thinking by day" (Berachot 55b). The Talmudic sage Jonathan expresses the Freudian idea: "A person is shown in a dream only what is suggested by one's own thoughts" (Berachot 55b). When R. Meir had a dream to apologize to the head of the academy, R. Simon ben Gamliel, he didn't go, because according to him 'dreams are of no consequence' (Horayot 13b). Other sages still held the view that dreams were a form of prophecy.

Not all dreams come true; there are also false dreams. Even if dreams are full of meaning, how are we to understand them? The point is that true wisdom (like Joseph and Solomon) is not in having dreams, but in waking up and knowing their 'true' interpretation. Joseph demonstrates this by not only 'interpreting' the dream, but suggesting a course of proper and sensible course of action.

Rabbi Aharon of Karlin compares Jacob's dream with Pharaoh's. When Jacob dreamed, it says, "He awoke from his sleep, and said, 'Surely YHVH was in this place.' “(Gen. 28:16). In contrast, when Pharaoh awoke, he went back to sleep, for it says, "He awoke, and he dreamed a second dream...." (Gen. 41:5). We can ask ourselves the same question: do we 'wake up from a dream' or do we roll over and go back to sleep? Dreams are dreams, and what their meaning is may be debatable, but the point is, when we finish dreaming, are we truly awake.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Chanukah Same'ach.

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