Martin Luther King gave a famous speech, “I Have a Dream”. He was not taken entirely seriously. Nor was any dreamer in the course of history. How the words of Joseph’s brothers echo down the centuries; they said mockingly, “Look, here comes the dreamer of dreams!” But they were wrong, as all the mockers and scoffers are.
Heine said, “Sir, do not mock our dreamers. Their words become the seeds of freedom.” Zadok Hacohen Rabinowitz said in his Pri Zaddik (1906), “A person’s dreams are an index to their greatness.”
The Jewish people are a great people because of their dreams.
We dream – that God’s word will fill the world as the waters fill the sea.
We dream – that nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. We dream – that the universe will be upheld by truth, justice and peace.
We dream – that people will be judged, not by creed, colour, charisma, politics or possessions, but by the way they love God and fellow beings, and the way they live their lives.
We dream – that we will be a kingdom of priests and a holy people.
We dream – that Israel will be the garden of the Lord and a blessing upon the face of the earth.
We dream – that we may each reclaim the myriad sparks of righteousness in the world and bring the coming of the Messiah.
The world used to mock us for our dreams – “Look, here comes the dreamer of dreams!” But they were apprehensive of us too.
Our dreams posed a threat. If our dreams came true, they would be finished. Some of our dreams did come true, and those people were indeed finished. But the world is not yet a messianic world, and if it is to improve or even survive it still needs the dreams and the dreamers. There are other dreamers, but there is a special quality to our dreaming.
I want you to know something. I am proud to be a Jew – proud because of the Jewish dream. I deem it a privilege to be a Jew – a privilege because of the excitement of turning dreams into reality.
Sometimes in shule my mind wanders off, away from the service, afar from the siddur. You might even think I am asleep. In a sense you are right, because I am day-dreaming. I look at my congregation of good, decent, loyal Jews, and it sends me off into a reverie.
I dream of all of us, marching with the countless millions of our people along the highways of time, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, following the Jewish adventure and finding that the impossible dream eventually does come true.
Perhaps it is all too hard for some Jews and they want out. A quieter life, without passion or purpose, without great causes and stirring dramas – that’s what they would prefer. I can understand, and yet I can’t. How can any Jew not be moved beyond words by being Jewish with its infinite colour and variety?
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America possesses the first Hebrew printed book, Jacob ben Asher’s Tur, which was defaced by the censors who inked out the complimentary references to Judaism. Recently the librarian found that the ink used by the censor had almost faded away. The original text was revealed in all its clarity. The words which the censor had failed to eliminate were a passage from the siddur, Ashrenu, mah tov chelkenu – “How fortunate are we, how goodly our portion, how pleasant our lot, how beautiful our heritage!”
Let that be what we say, too – the Jewish dream is a wonderful dream, and it’s a joy to be Jewish!
This article first appeared in print in September 1994 – Tishri 5755.