The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Kislev 24, 5770/December 11, 2009

"And Yosef dreamed a dream and told his brothers"
(Genesis 37:5)

Within families and within societies there are those who we call dreamers and those we call pragmatists. The designation "dreamer" commonly carries with it a certain opprobrium: "He is just a dreamer... he's not being realistic... his feet aren't on the ground..."

A pragmatist, on the other hand, is "practical... connected to reality... addressing real issues... "

Concerning Yosef and his brothers, who was the real pragmatist? Were the brothers whose actions were motivated by jealousy towards Yosef being pragmatic? Was their plan to kill their brother, and then, having abandoned that, to sell Yosef, driven by considerations of what would best serve their interest or the interest of the nation of Israel?

True, Yehudah says, "'What is the gain if we slay our brother and cover up his blood?'" (ibid 37:26) couching his words in an air of pragmatism. "What is the gain?" How often is a perceived short term "gain" the motivating factor behind our own actions, or the actions of our leaders? Can such myopic short-sightedness really be described as pragmatism? Or is there no greater flight from reality than the abandonment of a brother, or the attempt to kill a dream?

Yosef dreamed two dreams, one concerning sheaves of wheat and one concerning the stars, the sun, and the moon. Like his father Yaakov, Yosef's dreams bound the heavens to the earth, insisting on a partnership between G-d and man. His brothers perceived in his dreams something else altogether. They perceived competition, subjugation and oppression among brothers. That they, the "pragmatists," were projecting their own thoughts, is made manifest in their subsequent actions toward Yosef.

But it was Yosef the dreamer who was the true pragmatist. It was he who made the very best of every situation he found himself in, never allowing himself to be overcome with self-pity or animosity. It was Yosef who put Potifar's house in order, who became "manager" of the Egyptian prison into which he was condemned, and who, upon rising to the position of second in command in Egypt, fed the world and kept humanity alive.

The thread common to Yaakov's dream of a ladder planted on the ground and leading to the heavens, and Yosef's dreams, expressing the vision of humanity walking in step with G-d is, of course, the vision and the purpose of the nation of Israel, the vision and the purpose of the Holy Temple.

"Pragmatism" which pits brother against brother, which substitutes fear and jealousy and short termed gains, and which values personal pride over the common good, is not pragmatism at all, but self-destruction and defeat. True pragmatism, the pragmatism of Yosef requires a divinely inspired vision that places G-d and the purpose which He has assigned to man in His creation, before man's earthly machinations.

On the evening of Friday, (Shabbat), the 25th of Kislev, (December 11), we being the eight day celebration of Chanuka, marking the dream and the determination to realize that dream, of the Jewish nation, led by the priest Mattitiyahu and his five sons, 2,500 years ago. Their vision proved more powerful than all the well-reasoned "pragmatism" of their day, which called for the wholesale abandonment of the Torah of Israel. Today that same brand of selfless dedication toward that same dream is required of all of us who still dream of a world in which the presence of G-d resides. This is the dream of Israel, and this is the vision of the Holy Temple.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yosef Adest, (filling in for Yitzchak Reuven), engage in a lively discussion on the joy of Chanukah, especially in the Land of Israel, and the significance of the festival today. They also discuss a perplexing incident recorded in parshat Vayishlach: the patriarch Yaakov’s mysterious struggle with an angel. Rabbi Richman gives this event new meaning for our generation as he cites our ancient sages’ prophetic statements regarding the crisis of faith in our generation – the times preceding the messianic redemption.

This week's TEMPLE TALK is only one part.

Part 1