By: Rabbi James M. Bennett, Senior Rabbi of
Congregation Shaare Emeth
, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Dream and Act
This week of Chanukah recalls the potential of dreams, when we retell the ancient story of our ancestors’ struggle for religious freedom and self-determination, bejeweled as it has become with the creativity of our collective imagination, and rededicate ourselves to the transformative potential of our dreams. After all, who would have thought that a small band of zealots would prevail against a larger, more powerful and seemingly insurmountable foe? Yet this is precisely what the historical story of Chanukah celebrates. Upon this fulfillment of a dream, a world changed through strength and patience, we have laid an even lovelier blanket of faith: miracles do happen and when we least expect them, but they require our partnership at the very least, if not our intention and our active participation. If the oil did indeed burn not just for one day but for eight, it required our hope, our dream, and, more importantly, our willingness to first kindle the flame and to believe that even in the midst of despair, a better world is possible.
arrives in the midst of our Festival of Light this year to remind us of this lesson as well. The biblical Joseph, already well established in his adolescence as an accomplished and prescient (if somewhat haughty) dreamer, comes of age and onto the world stage in our Torah portion this week as one who understands the importance of doing more than remembering one’s dreams and understanding them. Joseph’s power comes from his willingness to act upon dreams – his own and those of others. For Joseph it is not enough to dream. He understands his own dreams and the dreams of Pharoah and, ultimately, the dreams of his people and does his part to make them real. We too must use all of our resources to strive to actualize these dreams, even when doing so seems daunting.
In many ways, this has been our story since our beginnings as a people. Abraham had a vision, or a dream, and he pursued it against all odds, leaving home and setting out for a new and unknown land. Abram and Sarai imagined the possible and did what they could to make it real. Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and numerous others saw or felt the Divine hint of possibility before them and did what they believed they must do to move towards their dream. Moses stood in silence before the bush that burned and was not consumed and realized that he, too, was being called upon to actualize a dream. Over and over again throughout our history and the history of the human experience, values and faith have called upon us not to simply accept the status quo but to utilize our resources and do what is required to make those values real. This is the best kind of miracle, of course, whenever we do not abandon our dreams, our vision, our hopes, but instead rededicate ourselves to bringing light, justice and peace to our world.
Now is no different from any other moment in history. The world desperately needs dreamers, but especially dreamers who are willing to do more than just dream; our world needs dreamers who will also take action. We face great and seemingly daunting challenges in fulfilling our dreams. We look around at our world and realize that there is so much work to be done: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, housing the homeless, teaching children, caring for the vulnerable, making peace, and standing up for justice. None of this will happen on its own. We need to make it happen with our hearts and our hands and our resources.
In the Talmud (Kiddushin 39b) we read that when there is real need, a real danger, and we must act prudently and deliberately, and not “rely on a miracle.” In other words, while we can and should have faith and hope, we also have to get to work bringing about the fulfilment of our vision.
One of our responsibilities as Reform Jews is this commitment to action. The prophetic vision of our people inspired the founders of the progressive movements of Judaism to accept responsibility to change their world. They understood what we now know. When we see injustice around us, we act. We get to work. We get busy. This has always been our mission and our vision: Dream and act. Then, and only then, is it more than just a dream.