Last Saturday night, in celebration of our fifth wedding anniversary, Tamar and I went to see Les Miserables.  It is our favorite show, first as individuals long before we met, and now as a couple. I did not see a full production of the show until well into college when a friend of a friend had a part in the ensemble and the show was traveling through St. Louis during a Spring Break. But by then it had spent nearly ten years lodged in my mind.

עלובי החיים (Aluvei Hachayim), literally “the destitute of life” or “of living,” premiered  at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin in July 1992, performed by a legendary eidah which the year before had premiered another groundbreaking show, Hair. What made them legendary? Simple: they were in Nivonim my first summer in camp and a number of my friends had siblings in the eidah. My memories of that first summer, some of which I wrote about a few months ago, are mostly vague. One of the clearest ones is of giants (Nivonim campers) throwing a frisbee gracefully across the Kikar for what seemed like unfathomable distances.

In 1992 I was a pioneering camper in our new Chalutzim program, the first group of campers to come to camp for four weeks. And I only saw one play that summer, Shoafim’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But the myth of Les Miz was born after camp as my second session friends from St. Louis spoke of a magical, haunting, mythic experience. By the time I saw the full show in an English production, I knew most of the music by heart, had watched my sister perform it at camp (Nivonim 2000) in a production directed masterfully by a close friend, and knew absolutely nothing about the actual plot.

Les Miz, in the news now thanks to the star-studded Hollywood film opening soon, is on my mind because of one of its overriding themes: dreams. Most famously and powerfully in the haunting early breath-taker “I Dreamed a Dream,” dreams are a metaphor for the hope and promise denied to so many characters throughout the show. They are also what the audience leaves the theater considering: our own dreams and the invigorating rush of the somehow uplifting show.

This use of the word “dream” runs counter to the significant role it plays in this week’s Torah reading, Vayeisheiv, where we read of three dreams that are not waking, hopeful visions of the future often left unfulfilled, but sleeping, predestined if thinly veiled blueprints for how events will transpire.  Joseph’s two dreams of dominance over his bullying brothers and the dream Joseph interprets of the wine-steward and the baker, join Abraham’s dream-like message from God about his offspring suffering in a strange land and Pharoah’s dreams we read next week about the fat cows and the skinny ones, the consuming ears of corn and the consumed ones, as literary framing devices to help us see, poetically, into the future.

Beginning tomorrow night, dreams take center stage again as we celebrate Chanukah, a hopeful holiday of light at the darkest time of the year. On Chanukah we dream of lighter days, of nights when the sun will once again illuminate the evening sky. We dream of spring and summer. We also dream of a world informed by the history of the holiday, of Jewish unity and reconciliation with the world around us. And that hope remains undimmed – that dream undead – by so many historical moments that seem to undermine it.

As we move into Chanukah, and Shabbat Vayeisheiv, I leave us all with the great dream of the conclusion of Les Miz, a lesson for us in love and education, for our families and communities and the broader world: to love another person is to see the face of God. 

May we all have sweet dreams.