This morning my wife, kiddo, and I were snuggled up on the couch. We weren’t in too much of a hurry — a runny nose yesterday meant that we were waiting for the results of a PCR test before our toddler could go to school. Personally, I love how careful our kid’s school is about COVID-related things, especially when it means more morning hugs.
In any case, as we curled up together my wife asked our little one if he’d had any dreams last night. “Yeah,” our kiddo replied. “Oh, what about?” we asked. “A pig,” he said, as if that explained everything. “Huh. What color was it?” said my wife. “Mmm… black,” he yawned, then made a snorting noise to show us what the pig was doing. “Was it a nice pig?” I wondered, and our little one stretched as he said, “Yeah.”
That’s about as deep as dream conversations with a toddler can go, I guess.
My two-year-old isn’t the only one dreaming about mysterious animals this week, though. This portion opens with one of the most famous dreams in the whole Pentateuch: Pharaoh dreams about seven healthy cows rising up from the Nile, only to be consumed by seven sickly cows a few moments later.
Pharaoh wakes up, troubled by this vision, turns over, and goes back to sleep.
But he doesn’t find rest. Instead, he dreams about seven abundant sheaves of wheat that rise up, only to be consumed by seven weak sheaves. This powerful emperor is unsettled by these scenes; something about them just doesn’t sit right with him.
We’ve all been there — followed around all day by a dream so vivid we just can’t shake it. What is it about these that’s so disturbing?
We can’t know exactly what was keeping the cows and sheaves on Pharaoh’s mind, but they must have been particularly important because the text of the Torah takes care to repeat both dreams in full twice — once in Genesis 41:1-8 and then again later in that chapter, in verses 17-24. Generally speaking, the biblical author (or authors) is not known for being verbose, so if something gets repeated there’s usually a reason.
Personally, I think it’s because the author wants to underline the central idea of this portion: The only constant is change.
Parenthood is all about keeping up with changes. Your baby is growing by leaps and bounds, teething one moment and learning to speak the next. Just this morning I looked over at my kiddo and wondered where in the world those long legs had come from. He has seemingly grown from a baby into a full-fledged person overnight.
Us parents are also changing all the time. And so is the world around us. Our kids challenge us to change (or not), and we have to choose how to engage (or not). I find that my little one forces me to face things that I thought I’d put away long ago more than anyone else in my life. The world, well, I think we can all agree it’s been throwing us for more than a few loops lately.
The question then shifts from being about whether change will occur — external motion is inevitable — but what we go and do with it. Do we, like Pharaoh, seek out expert advice about our qualms and concerns? Once we receive that advice, do we heed it and prepare for the shifts that are on their way? Or do we close our eyes to what’s on its way?
Whether or not Pharaoh went to Joseph for advice, the years of plenty and famine were on their way. It wasn’t the dream, or even Joseph’s interpretation, that made the difference — it was Pharaoh’s decision to take on the challenge and save grain during years of plenty so that the Egyptian nation wouldn’t starve.
Sometimes, when I’m in the thick of it, it can be hard to remember that change is on its way. When I’m having a particularly hard day, worried about money or career stuff or just having trouble being patient with an exasperating toddler, it’s hard to remember that things have been easier — and will be again. When I’m having a fabulous day, the sun is shining on my beautiful family and there’s plenty of work coming in, it’s hard to remember that things will probably slope downwards before long. And that it’s okay.
The other evening, my wife looked at me and asked, “Is it gonna be easy again soon?” All I could do was give her a hug. We both know that the answer is that, yes, it will be both easy and hard, all the time, because that’s what life is. The ebb and flow is what keeps us moving through life, and parenthood is the distillation of that ride. Fortunately, we’re in it together, all three of us, doing our best.