Rabbi Baruch Harris

We all know the feeling. The brief glimmer of potential recognition. The lingering gaze. The furtive glances across the room as we scramble in our minds to place the individual. Where have I seen them before? Do they recognize me? Do they see that I am trying to place them? Are they trying to place me simultaneously? 

Much of this week’s parshah, Mikeitz, is about dreams becoming a reality. Yosef’s dreams from last week’s parshah are fulfilled, as are the interpretations of Pharaoh's dreams from this week’s parshah. In last week’s parshah, Yosef dreamed of his brothers, represented by sheaves of wheat, bowing down to him. The dream is realized when the brothers show up in Egypt and bow down to the ruler who has them brought before him. Pharaoh, confident of the national significance of his dreams, relentlessly pursues an explanation to his dream. He immediately acts on Yosef’s interpretation and after seven years of abundance is poised to own the entire land through capitalizing on the years of famine. 

The famine escalates and in desperation the brothers descend to Egypt to procure provisions for their family. They are brought to the ruler of the land, who unbeknownst to them, was their brother. The Torah records (42:7) that Yosef saw his brothers and recognized them, yet made himself a stranger to them, speaking harshly. In the next verse (42:8) the Torah records once again that Yosef recognized his brothers, and this time adds that they [the brothers] did not recognize Yosef. 

Ohr Hachaim, 18th century commentator, ponders why the Torah repeats the fact that Yosef recognized his brothers when detailing that the brothers did not recognize Yosef. 

Ohr Hachaim suggests that when one party recognizes the other, their kindred spirits arouse the memory in the other party. Once this happens, they enter a state of heightened alertness, carefully seeking clues in the other’s face until they reach the moment of recollection. The Torah here is highlighting that even though Yosef, in the initial meeting recognized the brothers, nonetheless they failed to follow normative human behavior and even after a little while did not recognize Yosef.

Ohr Hachaim posits the reason the brothers failed to recognize Yosef is that Yosef was in an elevated position of authority, and they therefore subconsciously eliminated the possibility that this could be someone that they know. They short circuited the normal process of seeking to recognize due to their erroneous schema of who could possibly be in front of them. 

This is astounding when one considers that the brothers had heard Yosef’s dreams before derisively dismissing them. Even though they came to Egypt, ostensibly to search for their long-lost brother, when the dreams that have long haunted them are being played out in real time, they do not even consider the possibility that the dreams could be a reality.

We all claim to have dreams that we could articulate if given the opportunity. Most often, those dreams are unrealized. This is because we simply don’t believe our dreams and like the word implies, they drift away into the blackness of endless nights. 

This week’s parshah, Mikeitz, always falls out on Shabbos Chanukah. Nothing in Judaism is coincidental and each year a new connection between the parshah and Chanukah is sought. 

The Chanukah story at face value is the story of a war being miraculously won and oil burning way beyond its nature. The underlying story is a group of ragtag Torah scholars who had the temerity to attempt to fight the mighty Greek army and a High Priest who fills a Menorah with oil knowing that it could not possibly last the necessary length of time. In short, it is a story of wild dreamers, brilliant enough to believe in their seemingly impossible dreams.

From the outset, Yosef believed in his own dreams, and they became a reality. The brothers refused to acknowledge that the dreams could be true and were blind to it happening in front of their own eyes.

In the dark of winter, it is the contemplative moments, sitting by the flickering candles, where we are inspired to become more connected to our rich heritage and benevolent G-d. Perhaps dreams of becoming closer to our Creator, learning more of His Torah, caring better for His children, emulating His Divine traits, flit through our minds. If we learn our lesson from this Shabbos Chanukah, it is that if we want our dreams to last any longer than the multi-colored candles rapidly melting into oblivion, then we must believe that our dreams are possible. When we believe in ourselves and are brave enough to not only follow; but lead our dreams, then we will make our dreams our new reality. JN

Rabbi Baruch Harris is the head of school at Phoenix Hebrew Academy.