~ How many times does Pharaoh dream? How many times does Yosef dream? What do you make of it?
(ד) וַתֹּאכַ֣לְנָה הַפָּר֗וֹת רָע֤וֹת הַמַּרְאֶה֙ וְדַקֹּ֣ת הַבָּשָׂ֔ר אֵ֚ת שֶׁ֣בַע הַפָּר֔וֹת יְפֹ֥ת הַמַּרְאֶ֖ה וְהַבְּרִיאֹ֑ת וַיִּיקַ֖ץ פַּרְעֹֽה׃ (ה) וַיִּישָׁ֕ן וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֖ם שֵׁנִ֑ית וְהִנֵּ֣ה ׀ שֶׁ֣בַע שִׁבֳּלִ֗ים עֹל֛וֹת בְּקָנֶ֥ה אֶחָ֖ד בְּרִיא֥וֹת וְטֹבֽוֹת׃
(4) and the ugly gaunt cows ate up the seven handsome sturdy cows. And Pharaoh awoke. (5) He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven ears of grain, solid and healthy, grew on a single stalk.
(י) וַיְהִ֗י בְּעֵת֙ יַחֵ֣ם הַצֹּ֔אן וָאֶשָּׂ֥א עֵינַ֛י וָאֵ֖רֶא בַּחֲל֑וֹם וְהִנֵּ֤ה הָֽעַתֻּדִים֙ הָעֹלִ֣ים עַל־הַצֹּ֔אן עֲקֻדִּ֥ים נְקֻדִּ֖ים וּבְרֻדִּֽים׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלַ֜י מַלְאַ֧ךְ הָאֱלֹקִ֛ים בַּחֲל֖וֹם יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב וָאֹמַ֖ר הִנֵּֽנִי׃
(10) Once, at the mating time of the flocks, I had a dream in which I saw that the he-goats mating with the flock were streaked, speckled, and mottled. (11) And in the dream an angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ ‘Here,’ I answered.
(ד) וַ֠יִּפְקֹד שַׂ֣ר הַטַּבָּחִ֧ים אֶת־יוֹסֵ֛ף אִתָּ֖ם וַיְשָׁ֣רֶת אֹתָ֑ם וַיִּהְי֥וּ יָמִ֖ים בְּמִשְׁמָֽר׃ (ה) וַיַּֽחַלְמוּ֩ חֲל֨וֹם שְׁנֵיהֶ֜ם אִ֤ישׁ חֲלֹמוֹ֙ בְּלַ֣יְלָה אֶחָ֔ד אִ֖ישׁ כְּפִתְר֣וֹן חֲלֹמ֑וֹ הַמַּשְׁקֶ֣ה וְהָאֹפֶ֗ה אֲשֶׁר֙ לְמֶ֣לֶךְ מִצְרַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲסוּרִ֖ים בְּבֵ֥ית הַסֹּֽהַר׃
(כד) וַיָּבֹ֧א אֱלֹקִ֛ים אֶל־לָבָ֥ן הָאֲרַמִּ֖י בַּחֲלֹ֣ם הַלָּ֑יְלָה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ הִשָּׁ֧מֶר לְךָ֛ פֶּן־תְּדַבֵּ֥ר עִֽם־יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִטּ֥וֹב עַד־רָֽע׃
(24) But God appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream by night and said to him, “Beware of attempting anything with Jacob, good or bad.”
(ג) וַיָּבֹ֧א אֱלֹקִ֛ים אֶל־אֲבִימֶ֖לֶךְ בַּחֲל֣וֹם הַלָּ֑יְלָה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ הִנְּךָ֥ מֵת֙ עַל־הָאִשָּׁ֣ה אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֔חְתָּ וְהִ֖וא בְּעֻ֥לַת בָּֽעַל׃
(3) But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “You are to die because of the woman that you have taken, for she is a married woman.”
Note that Yosef is never asleep as he dreams. We don’t know the time of day or place. He never wakes up. He might be the only one that we read is dreaming while awake.
Also, I want us to notice that even though Yosef will interpret dreams left and right, he does not interpret his own dreams. He retells the dreams, and the brothers and father interpret them for him. Our tradition has a good amount of things to talk about dreams.
ואמר רב חסדא חלמא דלא מפשר כאגרתא דלא מקריא ואמר רב חסדא לא חלמא טבא מקיים כוליה ולא חלמא בישא מקיים כוליה ואמר רב חסדא חלמא בישא עדיף מחלמא טבא ואמר רב חסדא חלמא בישא עציבותיה מסתייה חלמא טבא חדוייה מסתייה
And Rav Ḥisda said: A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read. And Rav Ḥisda said: A good dream is not entirely fulfilled and a bad dream is not entirely fulfilled. And Rav Ḥisda said: A bad dream is preferable to a good dream. And Rav Ḥisda said: A bad dream, his sadness is enough for him; a good dream, his joy is enough for him.
The numbers five, six, and ten are mnemonics for the categories to follow. The Gemara says: There are five matters in our world which are one-sixtieth of their most extreme manifestations. They are: Fire, honey, Shabbat, sleep, and a dream. The Gemara elaborates: Our fire is one-sixtieth of the fire of Gehenna; honey is one-sixtieth of manna; Shabbat is one-sixtieth of the World-to-Come; sleep is one-sixtieth of death; and a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy.
In a long chain of those transmitting this statement, it is said that Rabbi Bizna bar Zavda said that Rabbi Akiva said that Rabbi Panda said that Rav Naḥum said that Rabbi Birayim said in the name of one elder, and who is he, Rabbi Bena’a: There were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem. One time, I dreamed a dream and went to each of them to interpret it. What one interpreted for me the other did not interpret for me, and, nevertheless, all of the interpretations were realized in me, to fulfill that which is stated: All dreams follow the mouth of who interprets it.
We read in Brachot 55a that "a dream not interpreted is like a letter not read." As long as it is not interpreted it cannot be fulfilled - and we have an enormous personal responsibility regarding its outcome: we read in Brachot 55b that "dreams follow the mouth." And yet - Brachot 57b says that dreams are 1/60th of prophecy. It all depends how much we invest in it. A dream may be 1/60th prophecy, but it is mostly, or even entirely, self-fulfilling.
Chanukah has an important dream in its beginning. Alexandre the Great, because he is tolerating of Jews, has a very interesting story in the Talmud - it is with his death that the whole Antiochus versus Maccabees that is the meat of our Chanukah story begins.
Dreams are eventually what we make of them. Yosef becomes who he is in part because he dreams while awake, and even though we know God is near him all the time, he is also working hard. It is not a miracle: he works to get to where he is. And how we light the Chanukah candles also brings that message.
The Sages taught in a baraita: The mitzva of Hanukkah is a light kindled by a person and his household. And the mehadrin, i.e., those who are meticulous in the performance of mitzvot, kindle a light for each and every one in the household. And the mehadrin min hamehadrin, who are even more meticulous, adjust the number of lights daily. Beit Shammai say: On the first day one kindles eight lights and, from there on, gradually decreases the number of lights until, on the last day of Hanukkah, he kindles one light. And Beit Hillel say: On the first day one kindles one light, and from there on, gradually increases the number of lights until, on the last day, he kindles eight lights.
Rav Dessler Approach
Jewish law is in accordance with Beit Hillel. We light one candle on the first night and continue increasing and building our potential to the eight candles lit on the last night. Thus, according to this perspective, the law tells us that our first responsibility is to strive for the heights. Mediocrity as a predetermined lifestyle is unacceptable.
However, the ruling of Beit Shammai must also be taken into account. We need to know ourselves and where we are realistically holding. And we must not lose touch with that reality. The last day of Chanukah should be the apex of experience. But all too often it is not.
Taking both opinions into account we emerge with the following Torah philosophy about life: We should strive to reach the greatest heights, even though (or because!) they seem just beyond our reach, yet honor the reality of where we are -- taking proper precautions, proceeding step-by-step, not depending upon miracles -- even as we scale the stairway to heaven.
What kind of dreams will you dream in Chanukah? How are you going to go after them? May we have a Shabbat Chanukah full of dreams, and a week in which we carry our dreams forward.