Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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"And we told him… and it came to pass: as he interpreted to us, so it was." (Gen. 41:13)

As we continue the Joseph saga, Joseph’s powers to interpret dreams are revealed to Pharaoh, ultimately gaining Joseph his freedom.

The Sages wondered – as do so many of us! – what are dreams? Do they tell the future? Can they be interpreted? Should they be interpreted?

And more: what was Joseph’s power with dreams? Was it merely to interpret, as he claimed? Or is there a deeper matter at hand? Listen:

A certain woman went to R. Eliezer and said to him: ‘I saw in a dream how that the loft of the upper story of my house was split open.’ ‘You will conceive a son,’ he told her. She went away and it happened even so. Again she dreamed the same and came and told it to R. Eliezer, who gave her the same interpretation, and it happened even so. She dreamed this a third time and repaired to him but did not find him, so she told his disciples, ‘I saw in a dream that the loft of the upper story of my house was split open.’ ‘You will bury your husband,’ they told her, and this did happen. R. Eliezer, hearing a cry of wailing, asked what was amiss, whereupon they related to him what had occurred. ‘You have killed the man,’ he upbraided them; it is written, And it came to pass: as he interpreted to us, so it was.

R. Johanan said: All dreams are dependent on the interpretation given to them (save a dream about wine).

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LXXXVI:5

What a radical proposition: that our interpretation of a dream makes that interpretation real! Frightening in the way it is told in the midrash above, but – is it really so radical?

At one level, this is a clear and powerful reminder of the power of expectations. When we encounter the unexpected, the murky, the uncertain, our expectations dramatically color what we perceive. Is it an opportunity or a threat? Are people smiling for us or at us? Should we go in to that meeting prepared for conflict or collaboration?

The power of our expectations is so great that they literally change our reality: our pulse races or slows, our muscles tighten or relax, and we send the myriad of signals to those around us about what is “really” happening. And in so doing, our expectations become real.

We can, of course, go at least one level deeper: our words are real – in Hebrew, d’var means both a word and a thing. And our words have real power over others – especially when we are in a position of authority, as were the Hasids above.

Remember, with our words we create and destroy worlds: use them carefully, thoughtfully, kindly, and sweetly.

And in so doing, bring myriads of blessings upon us and all those around us.

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