The Dream of a Glass Half Empty

One emanation of God’s light is pnimi—internal—shining and filling the kli, the vessel it illuminates …

Another emanation is makif—surrounding—a light in which the kli, the vessel, is submerged …

Yehuda was ohr pnimi, the internal light,

the light defined by the boundaries of the vessel.

Yosef was ohr makif, the surrounding light,

the light that defies the confines of the vessel.

And we?

Half Full, Half Empty

Yehuda’s name is rooted in the concept of gratitude. “This time I will give thanks to God.” And gratitude is rooted in focusing on, and appreciating what one has, not what one doesn’t have. Gratitude is a glass half full, sameach b’chelko, outlook on life.

Yosef, on the other hand, is rooted in a completely different outlook.

Yosef was not content with what he had. His name, Yosef, clearly implies the desire to be mosif, to add more, “May God add for me another son.” (Braishit 30:24)

Unlike Yehuda who saw the glass half full, Yosef was a different breed. In fact, Yosef didn’t even see the glass as half empty, instead he looked beyond the glass altogether. Yosef was a dreamer whose gaze looked far beyond what existed in the hear and now. Yosef paid scant attention to the world of today. He was looking to the enormous possibilities of the world of tomorrow. His desire wasn’t for more in his glass, it was for a completely different world. His vision was so big, so far reaching, that to his father and brothers it was startling, even frightening. Yehuda, Mr. Thank You, was the ohr pnimi, the internal light, the light defined by and focused upon the boundaries of the vessel. Yosef, Mr. But There’s So Much More to the World, was the ohr makif, the surrounding light, the light that defied the confines of the vessel.

Asking for Trouble?

It would seem that Yosef’s orientation is one that is asking for trouble. It’s an outlook that invites failure and dissatisfaction. What’s more, big dreams have a way of attracting stiff opposition, and if a big dreamer isn’t careful, he might just find himself being thrown into a pit. And for the dreamer of boundary defying dreams, what could be worse? Not only is there no progress towards that bigger future, there’s entrapment, backsliding and the prison of going absolutely nowhere.

The truth is, most people’s natural preference is to be content with life inside the clear boundaries of what actually is, not with what theoretically could be in some fantastical dream world. There is a certain comfort, a tranquilness in what is. There is an attraction to taking care of what one has and not focusing on what more is “out there.” And what about ambitions for a better future? That one can always leave in God’s hands. But not Yosef …

Yosef was a man that dreamed, a man that refused to be broken by any obstacles to his dreams, and who, in the end, saw them all come to fruition. Yes, dreamers may be asking for trouble, but not when one’s dreams are ispired by  a deep, inner connection to God. Those dreams actually forge pathways and byways for the future that God wants to be channeled into the world that is, at the moment, far from what He wants. These aren’t just chalomot, dreams, they are chalonot, windows: Windows that create an opening for God’s ohr—God’s great, boundless light—to shine with greater luminosity into our world.

The Dreamers Pact

God didn’t create the world for anything less than shlaymut; absolute, pure goodness, and in fact, behind the scenes, He is always nudging creation closer and closer to it’s ultimate potential.

“God roars from on high and from the high realm of His holy abode, He sends out His voice roaring over the Temple …”

Yermiyahu 25:30

In the soul of Am Yisrael, we hear that great roar, the heavenly roar that calls out to a better world. It resonates with us, it beckons us, not just to hear and connect to it, but to be a tzinor, a carrier of the roar into this world. This is the koach, the special capacity of the righteous tzaddikim—Yosef haTzadik—to meld their will, their ratzon, with that of God’s and to become living extensions of His deepest, highest, infinite light, the light that is destined to fully shine, one day. One day in the righteous dreamers vision of the future.

Dreamers All

As we strive to deepen our connection to God, and to sanctify our lives, our souls, our inner “Godly spark,” naturally begins to dream. Big, powerful dreams; dreams that in their far-reaching vision and conviction border on the outrageous and invite accusations of simply being out of touch with reality. But those accusations are anything but the truth. The truth is that those dreams are genuine rays of brilliant light that clear the way for the ohr aiyn sof, the Infinite Light, to become manifest within our bounded world.

These dreams are brave, courageous scouts that fill the dreamer with conviction and courage—the courage to boldly confront any obstacle, even tragic obstacles—and to blaze a path to realization. The Zohar says that Yosef merited to see his dreams come true because he never took his eye off his dreams: “And Yosef remembered the dreams which he had dreamt …” (Braishit 42:9) Regardless of what befell him along the way, Yosef never lost sight of the future he longed for, the future he always dreamt of. Despite everything, his dreams kept the poison of despair at bay. Yes, he may have been in a pit or a prison, but his vision was always in the heavenly realm of the Creator of all things.

Yosef was imprisoned with two of Pharoh’s personal ministers. One day these men were at the pinnacle of prestige, and the next they were pathetic prisoners. And one morning Yosef sees an awful look on their faces and says, “Why are your faces so terribly troubled today?” Was it really so startling that they would be dejected and depressed after falling from their great heights to such awful depths? Perhaps the answer is yes. For Yosef the dreamer, Yosef who never lost sight of the future, dejection is never afforded the air it needs to breathe. In essence, Yosef was saying, “How can you be down? There is such a grand future that awaits us all, perhaps even on this very morning.”

Yosef teaches us to never be content with what is, and yet, to be endlessly happy and optimistic. Yosef’s deep longings for more, longings that became dreams, are themselves a source of great joy. “May the God of your forefathers add—yosef—to you a thousand times more than yourselves, and bless you as He spoke to you.” (Devarim 1:11)

Yosef Hatzadik, Yosef the righteous adder on, and the Maccabees too, teach us that what God desires is our active partnership. For Israel is the yad arichta, the extension of God Himself. God, within this world, acts via the nation of Israel, via the great dreams of Israel. And these very dreams stir us forever onward; they connect us to the depths of our souls and so create a shield against fears and trepidations. These dreams, these soul based links with God’s own highest vision for this world—these hope and emunah filled dreams—fill our hearts with joy, optimism and confidence that we can, and must, work together with God to bring our unfolding geula ever closer to it’s ultimate fulfillment.

Soon, soon. Soon in our days.

Translation by Shimon Apisdorf