Parshat Vayetzei: The power of dreams

Cantor Nancy Ginsberg
Cantor Nancy Ginsberg (Photo by Scott Schechter)

By Cantor Nancy R. Ginsberg

Some mornings I wake up confused as to whether the dream I just had was actually a dream or part of real life. There’s nothing more terrifying than waking up thinking you’ve flunked your high school final. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes I wake up and wish that my dreams were true. Our dreams let us peer into our deepest desires and fears.

In the Torah, too, we learn there are dreamers who walk the tightrope between fantasy and reality. Jacob, Joseph and Pharaoh all have vivid dreams that ultimately change the course of their lives. With each of these men, their dreams have an additional God-related element that moves them to make a change in their world.

This week we read Parshat Vayetzei, “and he left.” Jacob is on the run from his home where he has just robbed his slightly older, and much stronger, brother, Esau, of his birthright. He has lied to his dying father. He has taken advantage of his brother. He has left behind his mother who was both his accomplice and his only advocate.

In this week’s parshah, Jacob is the dreamer. Jacob stops for the night with little but a rock as his pillow. His past is closed off to him, and his future is highly uncertain. In a dream, he beholds a ladder spanning earth and the heavens, as divine beings traverse the interstices. When he awakens, he verbalizes his epiphany, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!” Suddenly, his orientation shifts, his perspective broadens and his priorities reorder. He now locates himself within a larger destiny and bigger vision. The challenges of the moment, while still present, are now proportionate to what matters most.

Jacob makes a deal with God to confirm that his dream was more than just a dream. He says: “If God remains with me, if God protects me on this journey that I am making and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house — the Lord shall be my God.” Jacob isn’t sure whether to trust his dreams or not, and his prayer is essentially, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He makes a promise to God, trying to will God’s guidance and presence to be true.

This reassuring episode undoubtedly helps Jacob feel more closely connected to God, but did it change the course of his life? Ultimately, as his dream and bargaining tell us, the course of Jacob’s life is determined by his actions. Turning dreams into reality isn’t merely an act of God; it’s the combination of faith in God, faith in ourselves and the active pursuit of the goals we wish to achieve.

Cantor/Chaplain Nancy R. Ginsberg, M.S.W., is the manager of pastoral ministries at Oak Crest Village, a senior living community in Parkville.

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