The Dreams of our Youth

When you were young and people would ask you what you wanted to be when you grow up, do you remember your answer? When you were nearing the end of your teen years and the possibilities for your future seemed limitless, do you remember what your aspirations were then? 

For many, the hopes and dreams of our youth may fade away like stardust, or they readjust as the realities of adult life came into play.  Such is life, so often the idealism of youth gets swallowed up by the realities of adulthood.  But does it have to?

Our father Joseph was tested with challenge after challenge, as he was literally sold into slavery by his brothers. The head mistress of the house of Potiphar where he worked attempts to seduce him, and when he rejects her, she turns the story on its head and slanders him and lands him a stay in jail. 

After twelve years in the dungeons, Joseph is discovered as a dream interpreter and is released to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. After being thrust into the spotlight and appointed viceroy over all of Egypt, Joseph was tapped to manage the impending famine that would impact the entire Middle East. 

After another seven years, his brothers come to Egypt in search of food and you can imagine the thoughts that flooded Joseph’s mind when he saw them. The verse states clearly that although the brothers did not recognize Joseph, Joseph immediately recognized them. What grounded Joseph? How did he restrain himself from lashing out at them for abducting him and selling him to passing marauders?

The verse tells us exactly what he was thinking:


Genesis 42:9

וַיִּזְכֹּ֣ר יוֹסֵ֔ף אֵ֚ת הַחֲלֹמ֔וֹת אֲשֶׁ֥ר חָלַ֖ם לָהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵהֶם֙ מְרַגְּלִ֣ים אַתֶּ֔ם לִרְא֛וֹת אֶת־עֶרְוַ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ בָּאתֶֽם׃

Joseph recalled the dreams that he had dreamed about them…….

Joseph recalled the dreams of his youth and recognized that they were beginning to materialize. It was his patience, faith, and vision that kept Joseph strong and connected through the most lonely and difficult times.

As we celebrate Chanukah this week, light the holiday candles and reflect upon the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days, we are also reminded of the challenges of antisemitism the Jews have faced throughout the ages. In the song Maoz Tzur – Rock of Ages, we recall the evil regimes in Ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome that rose and tried to defeat us but failed. Those ancient nations are no longer, but we are still here to light the candles and sing the praises to the G-d of Israel who has miraculously sustained us just as He did the miraculous oil at the time of Chanukah.

As we marvel at the flickering candlelight of the Menorah, we can remember and reflect on the dreams of our ancestors of previous generations, whose efforts and convictions paved the path for us to celebrate Chanukah and our Judaism today. 

Consider that a task in life is to model Joseph, to remember our personal and national Jewish dreams and stay connected through the most lonely, dark and difficult times. As we reflect on the recent spate of antisemitism that has arisen today, our response, like Joseph, is to remember the dreams of our nation, to hold on tight and rededicate ourselves to all that is good, and to look forward to the time when we will see peace, light and the Menorah lit in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem soon in our days – Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence