top of page

Dreaming While Wide Awake

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.


William Ernest Henley

In 1939 World War II erupted while Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, a leading Lithuanian Torah teacher, was in Palestine (as Israel was known at that time), separated from his wife, eleven children, and three hundred students. As the war raged, he made every effort, albeit unsuccessfully, to save European Jews from the Holocaust. By 1942, as Germany rode waves of victory through Europe, General Erwin Rommel advanced through Egypt towards Palestine, aiming to conquer and annihilate its Jewish inhabitants. The situation was dire. The Jews of Israel fearfully awaited Rommel’s invasion, assuming their fate was sealed. While others cried and prepared for doom, Rabbi Kahaneman chose differently. Although his European students were perishing in the Holocaust and apparently he and the rest of Israel’s Jews would soon meet the same fate, he chose that moment to purchase an empty plot of land in Bnei Brak for the future home of his new yeshiva (talmudical seminary). He planned to build an institution that would accommodate five hundred students, a number that exceeded all the talmudical students in the country at the time. As he surveyed the empty hilltop where he envisioned his yeshiva, a friend turned to him and gently said, “Rabbi Kahaneman, you’re dreaming.” Rabbi Kahaneman responded, “I may be dreaming, but I’m not asleep.” Although his yeshiva opened with only six students, today over three thousand students learn Torah in Rabbi Kahaneman’s yeshiva and it is an internationally respected Torah institution.

Many people dream of building institutions, writing books, or achieving greatness, but dreams aren’t enough. Many parents dream of raising respectful, accomplished, kind, and intelligent children. Many parents dream of households that run smoothly, efficient bedtimes, and calm morning routines, but dreams aren’t enough.To succeed one must be awake, focused, and willing to work relentlessly towards the desired goal. In short, we can dream, but we can’t sleep.  

This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Bechukosai (Leviticus 26:3 - 37:34), contains chilling warnings describing the consequences of Israel’s abandonment of Hashem (God) and His Torah. Throughout these verses one word pops us repeatedly. The word קרי (k.r.y.) is often translated as contrary as in 26:21, “And if you walk contrary to me, and will not hearken to me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.” Jewish tradition teaches that קרי also means coincidental or happenchance

There are times people do good things, but simply because they happen to do so. A husband who happens to do something nice for his wife is far from the ideal of a husband who consciously strives to act kindly to his wife. Hashem isn’t interested in His people coincidentally happening to do the right thing. He wants us to be committed, focused, and dedicated to serving Him. He wants us to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it so that we can achieve greatness. He wants us to dream while wide awake.

Envisioning our goals doesn’t mean we will always move towards them. Life inevitably comes with challenges and setbacks. Without clearly set goals, people are buffeted by winds of fate, blown this way and that and are often surprised or resentful at where life has thrown them. A person with defined goals will still be tossed about by challenges, but because they clearly see where they want to end up, they will eventually reset their compass and get back on course, moving closer to their goal at each turn.

Parents who feel dissatisfied with their children or family routines often suffer from a lack of clear vision. Conversely, confident parents are often parents who consciously work towards definite goals for their families. Both types of parents will face challenges and setbacks. Both will deal with challenging stages, difficult children, and stressful situations. But parents with clear goals will recover from tough times and get their families back on course while other parents flounder reactively as life’s challenges knock them over.

When a mother calls me to ask about homeschooling her child, the first question I ask is “What are your goals for this child?” If a mother’s goal is for her child to love learning, be self-motivated, or gain life skills, she will homeschool very differently than a mother whose goal is for her child to get on grade level so they can join their class next September. Once a mother’s goals are clear, then it is easy to help her find the resources that will help her achieve her goals with her child. 

One of the most important things parents can do is sit down and explore together what their mutual goals are for their family and for each child. (My husband Max and I share specific guidance on this process and which questions to discuss in Parenting As Partners, our video course for married parents who want to learn to lead their family together). 

Particularly as we head towards summer, this is a great time to explore goals for your family and children. Perhaps this summer you want to prioritize family cohesiveness and therefore will plan team-building activities that include everyone. Perhaps you have a child whose confidence levels have faltered during the school year and your goal this summer is to help them master skills and feel competent. A goal for the summer can be for a child to learn to swim or ride a bike and then you will be sure to pencil in times at the pool or park in your calendar. (For more details watch Leading Your Family to Summer where I discuss this in depth!)

Coincidental or happenchance lives are not what God wants from us and they don’t lead to fulfilled, accomplished people. To reach great goals we must envision and steadily work towards them. We dream , yet we're wide awake.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Dikla Arava 51 and her son Tomer Arava Eliaz 17 who were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7 in their home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Two of Dikla's daughters were taken captive by Hamas and held as hostages for 51 days before being released in a deal. I don't have words right now. My heart breaks over each precious soul the world has forgotten and each family shattered as enemies rejoice.

Share with us! What are your current goals for your family?


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page