Waste of Time: Miketz/Hanukkah 5775 by Cantor Lipp

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 8:53am -- lcanfield

PR people call it the 'curse of knowledge.' Once we know something, it's hard to imagine other people not sharing that knowledge.

Because we've heard the Joseph stories so many times, it's hard for us to fathom how intriguing an interpretation his understanding of Pharaoh's dreams really are.

I listened to a Teaching company course on Egyptology which suggested that Pharaoh's advisors couldn't interpret their sovereign's dreams because the night visions weren't translated in the guide-books they had at their disposal. Based on translations of ancient Egyptian-Idiot's-Guide-To-Dream-Interpretation it seems that the professor was right. 

Here are a few examples of dreams and their meanings as written in one ancient Egyptian dream manual:

If a man sees himself in a dream -

  ..dead that’s a good omen, meaning long life

  ..eating crocodile flesh is also good: he will be a village official

  ..plunging into cold waters is good too indicating absolution of all ills

On the other hand:

  ..putting ones face to the ground is a bad omen: the dead want something

  ..making love to his wife in daylight is bad, as his god will know  misdeeds

Another guidebook instructs that dreaming of

 ...a deep well meant prison

 ...a mirror indicated a second wife

 ...a shining moon = forgiveness

 ...a large cat symbolized a bumper crop

What most intrigues me about Joseph's feat is that when we read the stories for the first time, his explanation is not obvious: He makes a leap that would seem quantum to us if we weren't so accustomed to the stories already.

How does he decide that 7 cows are 7 years? Wouldn't it make more sense to assume they were seven down-trodden nations rising up against the 7 strong armies of the ancient world (including Egypt)? The transformation of physical objects to measures of time is neither obvious nor intuitive. If it were, it would probably have been on one of those ancient Egyptian papyri.

By Miketz, he's had practice with this leap in his interpretation of the prisoners' dreams from last week’s portion, seeing the 3 branches and 3 baskets as days. Why not three guards or three assistants?

If we accept Joseph's explanation that he's not the interpreter but God is then we can certainly make sense of the leap -- God can use whatever imagery suits the divine as long as there is someone with the skill to ferret it out. But what if Joseph's statement that God is the interpreter is merely his attempt at humility?The only set of dreams that has no time element is the first pair which, by the way, no one bothers to interpret because they DO seem to indicate Joseph's prophecy/wish that he will rule over his siblings and parents. Ramban actually suggests that Joseph puts his brothers through their ordeal as 'spies' not because he wants to make them repent of their actions towards him and demonstrate they have changed their ways but because the dream prophesied that ALL brothers would bow down and one was missing!

There is an evolution in the nature of the dreams in the Joseph story:

1. The first set of dreams are not interpreted.

2. The second set are, but are fated and cannot be changed.

3. The third set are fated but Joseph is able to take action to avert the worst of its consequences.

I'd like to suggest a narrative reason for Joseph's leap of imagination. When one is in prison, time must operate differently than when outside. There's a great moment in Orange is the New Black when Piper's fiancé is standing in line waiting to go to a new fashionable place, something most of us would consider a fabulous waste of time. She misses the luxury of wasting time.

It seems that being in prison has given Joseph a new appreciation for time; it's become a physical thing, something he can touch and feel.

Waiting two years after interpreting the cup bearer's dream to get out of jail probably merely enhanced his appreciation for how little time there is to waste.

Shabbat is a weekly reminder that we are free people to ‘waste’ time -- a time to dream and remember and sing and study and pray and eat and drink as if there's no tomorrow, as if all our work is done.

Chanukkah is a reminder that time is an opportunity to celebrate and should be counted, literally and figuratively. 

Time is not money. It’s far more valuable than that.

You may have dreamt about it an not even noticed.

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp