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Is a Dollar and a Dream Really “All You Need”?


One of the slogans used to promote the New York State Lottery is: All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream. The implication is, of course, that all you need is one dollar in order to see your dreams come true.

Is it really that easy?

Buried beneath the hype there is a very interesting detail that has a great lesson:. It is not enough to dream; you also need to actually do something in order to make your dreams come true, to invest at least one dollar. Without that one dollar you have no chance of winning the lottery.

There are, in fact, two types of dreams, those from which one does not want to wake up and those from which one does. I am not referring just to the difference between sweet dreams and nightmares, but something else: passive dreams and active dreams, respectively. Waking up from the former depresses, from the latter motivates.

Let’s see how it works.

In order for personal dreams not to be a mere escape from reality but a first step in their realization, the Torah gives us two conditions: 1) the dream must be one that implies productivity; 2) one must do something to help it come true.

We find this contrast between Joseph’s dreams described in last week’s reading [1] and Pharaoh’s dreams that we read about in this week’s reading, Miketz [2]. 

The first of Joseph’s two dreams begins with him and his brothers working in the field gathering the stalks of wheat. Pharaoh, on the other hand, dreams about watching passively as the fat and lean cows come out of the Nile, followed by the fat and lean ears of grain.

Another difference: Joseph’s dreams begin with earthly events – the gathering of the ears of grain – and continue with a dream in which he sees heavenly activity – the sun, the moon, and eleven stars leaning towards his own star. Pharaoh, on the other hand, dreams only about earthly matters, first about animals and then about plants.

The Torah teaches us what we should dream about: to aspire ever upwards and look forward to hard work. Dreaming of having much leisure and material wealth is not the Jewish recipe for a happy life.

We also find that when Pharaoh had his dreams, he could not fall asleep and called upon all his advisors to help him interpret them. No one was able to reassure him with their interpretations until Joseph came along.

What was it that made Joseph’s interpretation stand out and satisfy Pharaoh’s anxiety?

Our sages explain that Joseph’s greatness was that he saw in Pharaoh’s dreams not only a warning as to what was going to happen, but also what needed to be done about it [3]; that steps needed to be taken during the seven years of abundance in order to be able to endure the seven years of famine that would follow.

So the tool for this week is a recipe for successful dreaming: Aspire to succeed in your efforts and not to succeed without effort. Success that comes through great effort perdures; that which comes easily has no real staying power. Easy come, easy go. 

I am reminded of what I’ve heard from two wise people with much more life experience than myself, which serve to succinctly synthesize what is expressed here: The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Israel Meir Lau Shlita, often says that we Jews do not ask “Ma Ihié?” — what will be? — but “Ma osim?” — What are we going to do? —. My paternal grandfather, Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, of blessed memory, expressed it this way: it doesn’t matter that you dream, as long as you don’t have your eyes closed.

And finally: As we celebrate Chanukah, remembering the miracles that happened and are still happening, it is interesting to note that both dreams and miracles challenge our perception of reality. If you see a reality that makes you anxious or depresses you, remember two things: 1) your perception of reality is often nothing more than the creation of your own imagination, and when you open your eyes the boogeymen will disappear, and 2) if you get to work — hard — to change reality, the expected miracles will occur.

Happy Chanukah!

Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pages 820 – 822

  1. Genesis 37:5 – 37:11

  2. Genesis 41:1 – 44:17

  3. Genesis 41:33 – 37

First published in English on my blog at Times of Israel, December 23, 2019


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