Skateboarding on Yom Kippur

12.22.2014

I learned something interesting about Israel the other day that I didn’t know before. I learned that the best day for skateboarding in Israel is on Yom Kippur. Why? Because nobody drives on Yom Kippur. Even the most secular Jew doesn’t take his car out on Yom Kippur. So, the streets are empty. And, thousands of kids take advantage of this unique opportunity. So, if you go out in the streets of Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, there are thousands of kids skateboarding.

I want to come back to this image. But, first, a look at our parasha. At the very beginning of our parasha, Joseph catapults himself from prison to great power by successfully interpreting Pharoah’s dreams. Pharoah has two dreams. In one, 7 fat cows get swallowed whole by 7 scrawny cows, and the scrawny cows don’t get any fatter. And, in the second dream, there are 7 fat sheaves of wheat that get swallowed up by 7 scrawny sheaves of wheat, and they remain just as skinny as they were before.

As we know, Joseph says the dreams mean there will be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine, and Pharoah needs to plan for the famine. Otherwise, the bear market will swallow up the bull market, and Egypt will sink into a deep depression.

What was the secret of Joseph’s dream interpreting powers? Why was he able to interpret Pharoah’s dreams, when no one else could? The key words in Joseph’s interpretation are: chalom echad hu. Pharoah, said Joseph, your two dreams are really one. The details of these two dreams are different. But, the underlying message is the same.

Joseph had the singular ability to remain focused on the core message of the dream, and not be distracted by the details. That turned out to be a very important life skill, too. When Joseph was seventeen, he had his own dreams. He dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. He dreamed that he would become the leader of his family.

Joseph’s dreams came true, but not at all in the way he expected. When we speak of dreams in our own lives, we mean we have ambitions, we have hopes, and we have expectations of how are lives will turn out. These dreams could include many different things: We may dream of falling love. We may dream of becoming fabulously wealthy. We may dream of becoming a famous artist or changing the world in some way.

Joseph had these kinds of dreams for himself. He was grandly ambitious. And, in a literal way, his dreams came true. In Egypt, when his brothers came looking for food, they did bow down to him. And, when that happened, Joseph remembered his original dreams.

But, at that moment, Joseph could not have helped noticing how differently his life had turned out from his original hopes and expectations. Joseph’s dreams did not include getting kidnapped and nearly killed by his own brothers. They did not include getting sold into slavery. They did not include spending years in a dark dungeon underground. This was not the life Joseph had hoped for.

Yet, when Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him, he remembered his original dream. He recognized that his dreams had not been fulfilled in the exact details that he had expected. His original personal dream probably envisioned a much smoother ascent to the top: getting into the college of his choice, marrying the homecoming queen, buying a house on the lake, and having 2.5 children, who would give him nothing but joy every minute of his life.

It didn’t turn out like that for Joseph. Not literally. But, when Joseph was able to let go of the details of his dream, he realized that the deeper dream inside of him was being fulfilled. And, he was able to live a rich and meaningful life.

We all have dreams. Sometimes, we focus too much on the literal details of our dreams, and we end up frustrated. If we can look beyond the details, and focus on the deeper dream we carry within us, we can find happiness, even when not everything goes our way.

Theodor Herzl had a dream of a Jewish State. I’ll bet that dream didn’t include skateboarding on Yom Kippur. In fact, if you asked three Zionists in Herzl’s day, what was their dream for the Jewish state, you’d get four different opinions. Some dreamed of a place where Jews could feel safe. Some dreamed of a cultural renaissance. Some dreamed of a socialist paradise. And, most assumed that this state would have Biblical borders, extending to the Jordan River.

It was the genius of the chalutzim/the pioneers that they were able to see in their multiple dreams one dream. They were able to look beyond the individual details of their dreams to see something deeper. Ben Gurion realized that for the dream to come true, it didn’t have to be true in every literal detail. It didn’t mean that Jericho and Bethlehem had to be part of the new state. The State of Israel without Jericho was still the same dream that moved our ancestors for 2000 years, even if it wasn’t true in every detail.

And, the same is true in our personal lives. From the time we are very young, we each have dreams of how our lives will turn out. We have hopes and expectations. They don’t include getting cancer. They don’t include losing a job, losing a loved one, or any number of disappointments or heartbreaks. We have expectations for our children, too. Sometimes those expectations are very concrete and very defined. And, sometimes we hold fast a little too tightly to the literal details of our dreams.

Yet, what Joseph taught us is that for a dream to come true, it doesn’t have to be true in every detail. When we are faced with the disappointments in our lives and with the heartaches, it doesn’t mean our dreams are over. But, it may mean we have to search for the deeper dream that is inside of us. Joseph had the ability to look at his life as a whole. And, when he looked at all of the things that happened in his life over many years, he found meaning and purpose. It didn’t mean that he never experienced loss or failure or deep frustration. It did mean that he was able to live a worthy life and a life of joy, in spite of the defeats and losses he experienced.

This is the message of Chanukah, too. My daughter Shani told me that on Wednesday night, the first night of Chanukah, she went with her friends to a bar in Jerusalem. For the first hour, they played reggae music. Then, when a crowd had gathered, the dj suddenly stopped, and everyone in the bar recited the Chanukah blessings together.

Was this Herzl’s dream? Herzl would be turning over in his grave if he knew they were playing reggae music in Jerusalem. Herzl’s dream was for there to be a German Opera House on every corner of the Jewish state, and for German to be the Jewish national language in Israel.

Did the Maccabees risk their lives so that someday there could be a Jewish State where thousands of young people would skateboard on the streets of Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur? The Maccabees were religious zealots. They would be horrified at such a thought!

Yet, in the spirit of Joseph, I am confident we can say without qualification, chalom echad hu. This beautiful State of Israel that we have today in the fulfillment of an age old Jewish dream, a dream that goes back to the Maccabees and long before. It is Herzl’s dream too. It is not their dream come true in every literal detail. But, it is the same dream, nonetheless.

We are a people with a history of dreams coming true. And, the reason for that is that in every generation, we have had great men and women who had the wisdom not to take our dreams too literally, not to focus too narrowly on the details of the dream, and instead, to be sensitive to the deeper hopes that lie within.

Ken tihiyeh lanu. So may it be for us. In our national lives and in our personal lives, may we have the wisdom of Joseph to see beyond the details of our dreams, and find the ability to discover and to create lives of meaning and of joy.