What is Spirituality?

Many people have said to me ‘Oh, I’m very spiritual’; some say it with a lot of pride. But what I have learned from the Torah is that spirituality from God has nothing to do with pride; all our Biblical heroes had to go through experiences that humbled them before they could fully enter their role. Joseph was one of these; he was a spoiled brat because of his father’s overt favouritism, but after spending 15 years of slavery in Egypt, his pride had been broken.  This principle can be applied to entire nations as well as people.

I’ve always been drawn to spiritual things.  When I was young, I loved the stories from Roman and Greek mythology.  Spirituality opens us up to the existence of life beyond the physical, transporting us into the supernatural world, into another dimension.  Included in this realm are those who consider themselves prophets, visionaries and interpreters of dreams. Our rabbi used to joke about people who were eager to tell him about their dreams; he would say that they had too much to eat the night before and attributed them to their overactive digestive systems.  They searched for meanings where there were none.  Some do have special dreams, but we need to be careful when we play in the spiritual realm because it is far too easy for most of us to be deceived.

Our Scriptures have much to say about dreams.  In last week’s parashah Vayeshev, Joseph had two of them.  His father listened and then kept them in mind, while for his brothers they only served to increase their envy and hatred of him.  Jacob never denied the veracity of dreams because he had a dream about a ladder where angels were ascending and descending upon it.  It was in this dream that God made many promises to him…that He would give the land to him and his seed; that we would spread out to the north, east, south and west, and in him and his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed and in which the LORD said ’​15  And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.’  His dream was prophetic, and it was so real that it says in verse ​17, ‘And he was afraid, and said, How awesome is this place! this is no other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’  He named that place Beit-El, meaning the house of God.  Later we would read the importance of Bethel in Judges 28:​18  ‘And the people of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-El, and asked counsel of God….’ Some scholars say that Bethel is 10 miles north of Jerusalem, others that it is located in the West Bank five miles northeast of Ramallah or that it is the modern village of El-Birah.  Jacob’s dream showed us that one day Bethel will once again belong to our people in our Promised Land.

Jacob and Joseph weren’t the only ones who had dreams. It wasn’t limited to the Hebrews. In this parashah, the Pharaoh also had two dreams causing him deep concern; so much so that he called all his magicians and wise men to him to interpret them, but no one could because as Joseph said to Pharoah’s butler and baker in Bereshit 40:8 “ Do not interpretations belong to God?”  Our prophet Daniel also had this gift, as we read in Daniel 1: 17: ​ “… and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.”  There is always a reason for dreams but none of them should be a matter of pride.

Interpretation of dreams, prophesying and divination were also performed by false prophets and living in Egypt, Joseph knew that well. In my New Age days, I met many people who proudly proclaimed that they could interpret dreams, speak prophetic utterances, and divine the future. Although their words were enticing, they all eventually showed themselves to be half-truths or complete lies.  For those of us searching for spiritual truth, we must always check their veracity with the Torah, the birthplace of God’s Truth, Ultimate Truth.

Joseph wouldn’t fully understand his dreams for at least another 15  years when he saw them come true; this was when his brothers bowed before him having travelled to Egypt during the famine to buy food. It says in Genesis 42:9, “Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them,You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”  This reminded me of what I read about the Hamas spies who came into Israel to see where it was unprotected before the terrorist attack of October 7th that had our nation reeling.  At the end of this parashah, Joseph would say to his brothers, … “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can certainly divine?” Joseph used this as a ruse, but many people still insist that they have the gift of divination.  If it was a real gift, where were they before October 7th?

Our prophet Jeremiah said in chapter ​23:25  “I have heard what the prophets said, who prophesy lies in My name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.  And he continues in verse ​32,  “Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams, said the LORD, who tell them and cause my people to stray by their lies and by their vain boasting; yet I did not send them nor command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all, says the LORD.” From time to time any of us can utter prophetic words without realizing it.  These are not a matter of pride because we don’t realize it nor should we use gifts of prophecy as a means of financial gain, like the gentile prophet Bilaam.

There are two sides to the coin when it comes to dreams, prophesies and visions…one side of the coin holds truth combined with humility stemming from the heart of God to draw people to Him. The other side holds half-truths or outright lies coated with pride and used to draw people away from God to their gods and ideologies.  I’m not sure from where these latter ones come; some say demonic spirits but perhaps they stem from our Yetzer Harah, inclination to do bad, combined with our innate divine and spiritual nature.   Whatever their source, we must be cautious and learn to discern.

King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:2 and 6 “ Just as dreams come with much brooding, so does foolish utterance come with much speech.  ​6. For much dreaming leads to futility and superfluous talk, but you – fear God.” It seems that even the prophetess Miriam didn’t fear God when she gossiped to Aaron about their brother Moses in Numbers 12:​2 when they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken also through us?”  And the LORD heard it and replied (in verse 6) “And He said, Hear now my words; If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known to him in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream.”  We know the consequences of this for Miriam and Aaron.

God called out to Samuel in his dreams when he was a child serving in the Temple.  In a speech made to Job by his elderly friend Elihu, he said in chapter 33. 15 -17: “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while they slumber on their beds,  then God opens the ears of men, and with discipline seals their instruction (their purpose) that He may turn man away from his action and suppress pride in man.”

There seems to be a recurring theme where prophetic dreams have to do with the breaking of our pride and the revealing of God’s purpose. Pharaoh’s dreams were used to save lives, not only of the Egyptians but we read in verses 56 and 57, “And the famine was over all the face of the earth, and Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians; and as the famine grew severe in the land of Egypt, all countries came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain…”

This can be applied not only to a physical famine but also to a spiritual one. Today the world is experiencing a spiritual famine, due to a lack of knowledge of the one and only God and Joseph who represents the nation of Israel, would feed spiritual food to the world. This is prophetic, and as we chant every Shabbat in our synagogues taken from in Isaiah 2:3 “Ki m’Tzion tzetzeh Torah u’davar Adonai mi Yerushalayim” כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם “For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

There are two prophets whose words we can look forward to seeing fulfilled in the future, Joel and Zechariah. Joel 3:1 says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” We can look forward to those days with hope and expectation. In the meantime, let’s not be fooled by false prophets who come in the form of religious leaders, politicians or interpreters of dreams or those who tell us of our future with horoscopes or whatever means they use; rather let’s always choose to read the Torah first to discern the true from the false.

And a final thought: Joseph was given Asenath, the daughter of the Egyptian High Priest of On to be his wife. If Joseph didn’t teach his sons Manasseh and Ephraim about his God, the God of his forefathers, we would not be reciting the special prayer every Shabbat when we place our hands on the heads of our sons saying, “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh”. The spiritual head of the family is the father, not the mother, and he has the responsibility of teaching his children about the God of creation. And not to be overlooked is Asenath, Joseph’s wife. She did not stop her sons from following the God of her husband’s fathers, rather it would seem that she became like Ruth who said, your people are my people and your God my God. This is a beautiful picture of the God of the universe speaking to all his creation. Our prophet Zechariah 8:23 said, “Thus said the LORD of Hosts: In those days, ten people from nations of every tongue will take hold—they will take hold of every Jew by a corner of their cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”  And we are to welcome them in and show them our God. We are not to convert to their gods but to allow them to know ours!  We are not to practice divination, false prophesying and interpreting dreams for profit, for as Joseph said, “Do not the interpretation of dreams belong to God?”

The Torah is like a deep well filled with water; we call it mayim chaim, living water. It is not like the empty well or pit that Joseph was thrown in. What other book can we spend years delving into and never stop discovering more and more truths and moral principles by which we can live?

Shabbat Shalom

Peggy Pardo