“I have dreamed a dream and there is none that can interpret it”
How does Pharaoh know that his magicians are not giving him satisfactory answers to his dream, but that Joseph’s interpretation is the correct one? What tells him to discard the professional responses in favour of the account from a young unknown with his vision and clarity of purpose? For Pharaoh recognises Joseph’s analysis as true, his connection with God as unparalleled, and his ability to translate the dreams into achievement invigorating. Taken hastily from his prison, Joseph is elevated to ruler of Pharaoh’s household because he has the ability to translate insight into action.
Parashat Mikketz is always read on the Shabbat in Chanukah, the festival of rededication of the Temple when we remember the Maccabees who fought for the right to worship in their own way. And while it is called a festival of lights, it is more accurately a festival of rights, as we commemorate the struggle of a people to freely express their religious and cultural identity and openly be themselves in a world with different values and hatred of otherness.
As we read Pharaoh’s words to Joseph – “Halom Halamti” – I have dreamed a dream – we are reminded of that other formulation – Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” that underpinned the American Civil Rights movement in the last century. The turning of a dream into a vision, by using it as a springboard to change the way the world works is a theme of both the festival and the parasha. In both cases the passionate outsider sees clearly what must be done, in both cases the status quo is forced to change.
Pharaoh must have known all along the meaning of his dream, to have rejected the interpretations of his ministers. Dreams are not especially helpful as insight, but only as a guide to action. He needed the energy of vision to come along to help him transform the dream to reality. We too hug our dreams close, knowing what we should be advocating and enabling but all too often choosing passivity rather than activism. So when will we begin to turn the dreams we dream into practical visions for the future?