Thursday, December 10, 2020







Dedicated l’refuah shleimah for נטע יצחק בן רחל


          In 1944, as World War II continued ravaging Europe and engulfing the entire world, the Ponovezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt’l, arrived in the then undeveloped town of B’nei Brak. It was then that he began to plan the construction of the Ponovezher Yeshiva, modeled after the yeshiva in the village of Ponovezh, Lithuania that had been destroyed. When someone told him that he was dreaming the Ponovezher Rav undeterredly replied, “Andere cholomen un schluffen; uber ich cholom un schluff nisht – Others dream while they are sleeping, but I dream while I am awake!”


          In Chumash Bereishis there is a recurring theme of dreams.

          At the b’ris bein habesarim, Hashem revealed Himself in a dream and related to Avrohom that his descendants would be subjected to years of pain in exile before being redeemed.  

          As Yaakov was escaping the wrath of Eisav, he dreamed about a ladder with angels ascending and descending its rungs. Hashem promised Yaakov that He would protect Yaakov and that Yaakov would return home unscathed by Lavan or Eisav.

          In parshas Miketz, the Torah describes the dreams of Pharaoh. Those dreams were the underlying cause of Yosef eventually assuming the throne as viceroy of Egypt. At the end of the parsha, the Torah relates the dreams of the Chief Winemaker and Chief Baker, and how Yosef correctly interpreted their dreams.

          Perhaps most prominently, are the dreams of Yosef. At the age of seventeen, Yosef had two unusual dreams that he shared with his brothers and his father. As a result of those dreams, the brothers became filled with jealousy and even hatred.

          Their hatred was revealed when Yosef was sent by Yaakov to check on the welfare of the brothers. When they saw him coming, they began making plans: “So now, come and let us kill him, and let us throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him’. And we shall see what will become of his dreams.”[2] Rashi points out that the brothers did not utter the concluding words of the pasuk, ‘and we shall see what will become of his dreams’. Rather a heavenly voice said those words, as if to say, “You think you will stop Yosef’s dreams. We shall see.”

          It took decades, but eventually Yosef’s dreams indeed came to fruition. His brothers bowed before him and he provided for them.

          The Jewish people’s existence is a dream. Our very birth was a dream, yet we continue to endure based on that same dream. To remain committed to Torah observance in a world that promotes so many anti-Torah values is a dream. It’s as if throughout the exiles our enemies have repeatedly declared, “So now, come and let us kill them,” and a voice from heaven replied, “We shall see what will become of his dreams.”

          When the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, instructed his Chassidim to maintain their Chassidic garb in post-war America, he was dreaming. When Rabbi Aharon Kotler founded a Kollel where young men would study Torah full time in Lakewood, NJ, an unheard-of concept in America at that time, he was dreaming. When the Lubavitcher Rebbe dispatched emissaries to all corners of the earth to disseminate Torah, he was dreaming. The common denominator is that although they were dreaming, they were not sleeping. We continue to thrive today only because of those dreams.

          The brothers recognized that the dreams of Yosef were not superficial visions and that’s why they feared them.

          The Kotzker Rebbe noted that when the Torah relates the two dreams of Pharaoh, the Torah states that Pharaoh awoke[3]. The pasuk then says that Pharaoh returned to sleep and had his second dream. Contrast that with Yaakov and his dream atop Mount Moriah. There the Torah states, “Yaakov awoke from his sleep and he said, ‘In truth, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know it’.”  

          When a great person has a dream, he is excited by it. He doesn’t return to his slumber but immediately begins to think about how to implement his dream. One who is a failure on the other hand, never capitalizes or makes a plan to ensure his dreams are fulfilled. Pharoah goes back to sleep, while Yaakov awakens and acts immediately.

          To accomplish anything in life, one must first have a dream and an end goal. Only then can he figure out how to get there. But if he has no idea where he is going, he has no chance of ending up at his real destination.

          She’iltos d’Rav Hai Gaon[4] quotes a halachic opinion that one should light the Chanukah candles on the left side of the doorway so that he will be surrounded by mitzvos. The mezuzah hangs on the doorpost on his right side, with the Chanukah candles shining on his left side, while he stands in the middle donned in his tzitzis.

          What is the connection between these three unique mitzvos? Each of them represents a vital component a Jew requires in his quest to live a Torah life. The mitzvah of tzitzis symbolizes that one must always know his goals and aspirations. “It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not stray after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.”[5]

          The mitzvah of mezuzah symbolizes that one must always be steadfast and unyielding. The blessing recited when one hangs a mezuzah on his door is, "Likvoah mezuzah- To affix a mezuzah." The mezuzah remains affixed to the door, all the while granting spiritual protection to the inhabitants of the house.

          The mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles symbolizes our never-ending quest for continued growth. No other mitzvah - Biblical or Rabbinical - possesses such opportunity to beautify a mitzvah more than lighting the Menorah. The actual obligation on Chanukah is merely to light one candle each night for the entire household. Our custom, that every member of the house lights candles corresponding to whichever night of Chanukah it is, is considered mehadrin min hamehadrin, the highest level of performance of the mitzvah.

          When lighting the Chanukah candles, we symbolically bring together these three components of growth: Having dreams and goals, remaining consistent and steadfast, and always striving ever higher.

           Like our flickering candles, our national dream seems so volatile. Yet, like our flickering candles, our national dream has withstood the tempests of time and the efforts of our many hateful enemies to snuff out our hopes. And like our flickering candles, our dream will live on forever.


          “In truth, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know it.”  

          “We shall see what will become of his dreams.”



Rabbi Dani Staum



[1] This essay was originally disseminated in 5762. I thank Eli Hirschman who has maintained these “early Stam Torahs” on his website

[2] Bereishis 37:20

[3] Bereishis 41:5

[4] Vayishlach, sheiltah 26

[5] Bamidbar 15:39


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