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Rabbi David Wolpe

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The Secret of Dreams: A Lesson From Joseph

Posted: 01/02/11 12:59 PM ET

Why is someone else's dream so tedious and one's own so gripping? Because our own dreams are vividly real to us, of course. The other person's is a fiction. In this distinction is a great spiritual lesson for the New Year.

Remember the biblical Joseph who told his brother's his dreams? He imagined that they bowed down to him, and in his second dream, that not only his brothers (disguised as stars) but his parents (as the sun and moon) bowed down to him, which sets a new standard of youthful grandiosity. As a result -- and because of his father's favoritism -- his brothers hated him. In the end they threw him in a pit and he was sold into slavery.

In Egypt Joseph wound up in prison. Among the prisoners were Pharaoh's baker and cupbearer. By interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh's servants, Joseph eventually makes his way to the court, where he interprets Pharaoh's dreams as well. As a result of his insight, Joseph becomes second only to Pharaoh in the land. So dreams got him into trouble and dreams got him out of trouble. But did you notice the difference?

Rabbi Isaac Bernstein pointed out -- Joseph got into trouble when he listened only to his own dreams. He succeeded when he learned to listen to the dreams of others.

The New Year is distinguished by dreams. Not only the dreams of the night, where our day thoughts and moods and secrets bloom in images, but the dreams of the day. As a Rabbi I am privileged to hear the dreams of others. I know each time I listen that I am enlarged by taking in another vision, another hope, one more aspiration of a seeking soul. The Zohar, the central text of Jewish mysticism, teaches that we are all "children from the chamber of yearnings." I hope this year we listen not only to ourselves -- to the echo chamber of our own dreams -- but to others.

After all, it worked for Joseph.