Friday, November 26, 2010

rav soloveitchik on the dreams of yosef

I really want to spend time on the lomdus of the Rav, but it would really be remiss not to speak about Parshas VaYeishev, as it served as a springboard for some of the Rav’s seminal ideas. If Parshas VaYishlach is the blueprint for our perennial confrontation with Eisav, the non-Jew, Parshas VaYeishev is the blueprint for dealing with internal conflict, one Jew against another. Ya’akov’s return to Eretz Yisrael, Eisav’s move to the mountains of Seir, might have been the beginnings of the process of ultimate redemption (interestingly, this same theme is echoed in various sifrei chassidus), the final “yeshiva b’shalvah.” Yet, much like the parsha of the spies thwarted Moshe’s anticipated entry into Eretz Yisrael and the bringing of a final geulah, the conflict between Yosef and his brothers thwarted Ya’akov’s plans for ultimate redemption as well.

Why do the brothers hate Yosef? Yosef knows that the "yeshiva b'shalvah", the serene life desired by Ya’akov, will prove transient, he knows the burden of galus awaits. The brothers hate Yosef not only for what he dreams, but because he dreams – he thinks of the future, he makes plans to cope with the changes he sees approaching, while the brothers prefer to focus only on present, the status quo. The binding of sheaves represented a new economic model, different from the shepherding the brothers were used to; the sun, moon, and stars represent powerful outside forces that the brothers will be forced to contend with and interact with. Where will these changes take place? Not on the home-soil of Canaan, but in the cultural milieu of Egypt, making adjustment to change all the more daunting. Yosef saw that planning for change was necessary and unavoidable. Clinging to the way-of-life of the moment will lead only to stagnation and failure.

The Rav identified the personality of Yosef with the Mizrachi movement that he became part of. The dream of life in Eretz Yisrael, life outside the context of European Orthodoxy even while that culture seemed secure and the need for change remote, is what enabled yeshivos and comunities to rebuild and continue after the havoc of the war. Without that planning and vision, how much more would have been lost.

The Rav also identified Yosef’s two dreams as representing two different crucial ingredients for Jewish continuity. The binding of wheat represented material and economic success, physical prosperity. But Yosef saw that Jewish survival required much more than that. The dream of the sun and stars represented heavenly forces – spiritual forces. Yosef envisioned having not only economic and political greatness, but spiritual greatness as well. The kesones passim, the multi-colored coat, represents these multiple facets Yosef dreamed of. Could these two very different ideals, spiritual as well as material/political greateness, be combined in one person, in one people? Yosef challenged his brothers to believe they could.

It is tempting to read into the Rav’s portrayal of Yosef an autobiographical portrayal of his own mission. The Rav saw that rebuilding Orthodoxy on post-war modern American soil required a different outlook than what worked in Lita, in Poland, in the Russian Pale. It was the kesones passim of the Rav’s personality, his multi-faceted intellectual greatness, which gave the Rav the tools to address the concerns of the new face of American Jewry in a way that few others could. The Rav had his detractors. His “brothers,” other Roshei Yeshiva and gedolim, questioned his dreams. The Rav said that we know that Providence sided with Yosef in the dispute with his brothers. I think we can say that the evidence of bnei Torah committed to the ideology the Rav taught shows that Providence has affirmed the value of his dreams as well.

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