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Not All Dreams Are Created Equal

Not All Dreams Are Created Equal

Martin Luther King had a dream. Did his wife and family support it?


On August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., whose contributions and influence we will mark this coming Monday, delivered what ultimately became his signature speech. Many identify that address, delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters that had gathered for the March on Washington, as the defining moment in the American civil rights movement.

What many don’t know is that the now-famous “I have a dream” speech was not intended to be given that day. Dr. King had actually delivered a different speech and was moving to close when a woman called out from the crowd, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” He then deviated from his original ending, partially improvised on the spot, and launched into a vivid and compelling description of his dream of freedom and equality for all.

Due to hard work, resolve and perseverance, MLK’s vision went from a dream to at least a partial reality. His dream was not about himself, his advancement, or his glory. He dreamt of a better, more just and fair world in which all are respected, appreciated and treated equally and fairly.

Do our dreams include a vision for a better world for all or just for ourselves?

As we mark MLK’s life this coming week it seems appropriate to ask ourselves – what do we dream of? What do we wish for? Do our dreams include others or just ourselves? Do our dreams include a vision for a better world for all or just for ourselves? How do our dreams integrate with those of our families, our spouses, or our children? Are our dreams compatible with our realities, our commitments, and our obligations, or do our dreams necessarily require us to abandon them?

Sorry Honey, I'm Going to Mars

Starting in 2024, a new initiative called Mars One will begin sending people to Mars in the hopes of creating a permanent human settlement there. Missions will leave every two years to bring people. The decision to go is irreversible, as those that move will have a one-way ticket with no mechanism to come home. Furthermore, under Martian gravity, a person’s bone density would decrease significantly and he or she would be unable to return to withstand Earth’s gravity, which is far stronger.

The organization publicly invited all those interested to apply for a spot and remarkably, since just April of last year, more than 200,000 individuals have applied. Last month, 1,058 applicants were contacted and told that they had made it through to the second round. Among them, is 38-year-old Ken Sullivan, a medevac pilot from Utah who has always dreamt of exploring and inhabiting another planet. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, there is only one minor problem. Ken applied without ever consulting his wife Becky, and now the two are struggling with what his dream means for their marriage and family.

“The question is do we get divorced now or get divorced later,” she said. “If I stand in the way of his dreams and passions, then we get divorced now, so I have to be supportive.” Ken’s dream is not only affecting his wife, but it has unalterable consequences for his four children, ranging in age from 6 months to 13 years old who, if he is selected, stand to never see their father again. The permanent effect on his family is not lost on Ken, who said,, “I just hope the family will be able to forgive me down the road. Hopefully there isn’t too much hatred of my being selfish in pursuing a dream that isn’t theirs.”

What do Ken’s children think of his father's dream? Dreams are wonderful, significant, and important. They cause us to aspire, to be ambitious and to seek out goals. But dreams should bring us closer to the people we love, not drive us apart from them. Dreams should include those that we care about, not marginalize them. Dreams should be compatible with and reinforce our values, our commitments, and our obligations, not cause us to abrogate, distort, or compromise them.

I cannot relate to the over-200,000 people who are ready to voluntarily leave our planet and all that inhabit it, never to come back here or see those people again.

Many of us, like Ken, are putting our dreams ahead of our families.

But many of us, like Ken, are putting our dreams ahead of our families. We may not abandon our spouse and children to go to Mars, but many neglect time with their spouse and children to pursue personal dreams and interests that don’t benefit or advance our family or even help us become better spouses or parents to them.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming of a low golf handicap or competing in a triathlon. It is wonderful to dream of professional or financial success beyond imagination. But these dreams must be pursued in moderation, with the consent and cooperation, hopefully followed by support, of our families, as well as in conjunction with our other responsibilities, not in place of them. Our dreams must never make us judgmental or intolerant of those who don’t share them.

Not all dreams are responsible or appropriate to pursue. Someone might dream of owning a yacht, but it would be financially reckless and irresponsible to do so. Some might dream of fancy luxury vacations, but it would mean taking children out of Jewish day school. Some might dream of spending Saturdays on the beach or dream of tasting lobster, but it would mean compromising on our heritage and its expectations of us.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr. we should all have dreams and work hard to make them into reality. But like Dr. King, our dreams should be inclusive, noble, balanced, sophisticated, serve to better the world and bring people closer together. Most importantly, our dreams should be coordinated with our families and pursued only with their support.

The Talmud describes what happened when the sages approached Rabbi Elazar Ben Azarya to accept the position of Nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin. He must have been stunned by the invitation and incredibly excited and enthusiastic. After all, Nasi was the most prestigious and prominent position of the Jewish people and he was only 18 years old at the time. Nevertheless, Rabbi Elazar’s response to them is so instructive. “I have to consult with my wife before I can give you an answer,” he said. Though it would have been a dream come true, he refused to accept the dream position without the buy-in and support of his wife first.

Ken Sullivan’s application is unconscionable. Dreams should never hurt, cause pain or create division. They should heal, unify, and create a better circumstance for ourselves, our families and the world.

January 18, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 18

(14) Ayelet, January 26, 2014 3:13 AM


What strikes me here is not the man's selfishness, but the 200,000 people's incredible stupidity! It may sound exciting, but they are not going to be vanquishing Martians or discovering new alien species. There is nothing but red sky, red rock, and red dust, day after day after day. What are they going to do all day? Drive to work and come back home to freshly cooked vegetables and chicken for supper? They have no resources to conduct their own economy. They don't even have their own air! And what if this organization goes bankrupt? Oh, right. They can't come back. What if the organization abuses them? What if one of their new friends for life wants to murder them? Call 911? Plan B? I know most of us take all the blessings we have in this world for granted, but this is a whole new level of stupidity that is just hard to believe. In a different news article it said he wanted to make a name for himself. To give up his life on Earth so that future generations of kids will learn that he left his kids to go to Mars and make a name for himself? Crazy.

(13) KatGrafix, January 21, 2014 9:08 PM

Married on Earth, Living on Mars

Question is, did he let his wife know about his dreams and plans, before they married? I see nothing wrong with any of this, and I draw the line at judging another's marriage, and the agreements they reach within them. Other more pertinent questions come to mind, instead: How does insurance payoffs affect his permanent departure from earth, is he considered dead, can she benefit monetarily from his departure, as being his wife, with his family? A man like this who lives with one foot on the earth and the other headed on a spaceship, would his marriage have lasted , anyway? Why can't the whole family go to Mars? Clearly, there are issues not uncovered in this scenario, and these are just SOME of the questions I have before I make any judgement call about this situation. People marry these days, far too often, not considering the long-term consequences of vows made before their Creator, and this is just exactly an example of that type of action taken.

(12) Richard, January 21, 2014 7:11 PM

The best dream

The best dream a person, a parent can have is to raise his/her child to be the best they can be.
NO dream should trump that.

(11) Laurence, January 20, 2014 9:56 PM

Is this man a hero?

Dear Rabbi Goldberg

With all due respect I think you've got it totally wrong.

MLK represents someone who changed the world. However, he's purported to have had affairs and was an absent father.

What would you say about someone who left his wife immediately after their wedding to go study in another city and didn't return for 24 years? That was Rabbi Akiva. Without him Judaism may no longer exist - it certainly wouldn't be as it is today.

Because travelling to Mars isn't something you relate to as important, does that mean it's wrong for someone else? We need to be VERY careful when disparaging or criticizing someone else's dream.

On the question of getting divorced now or when he leaves, remember that in biblical times Jewish soldiers would give their wives a get before going to war in case they disappeared. Is that all that different?

Surely, if this is a dream Ken has always had then his personality must be such that this is consistent with who he is. His wife would probably have been attracted to this in him.

Rather than worry about what his children think of this idea it should make us think about how transitory life is. We can have a heart attack, a stroke, get hit by a car or go to a pizza bar in Israel and not come back. We all need to live our lives with the awareness that the time we have with loved ones is precious and should be treated accordingly.

Ken's dream puts a potential specific date on when he and his family may separate. Personally, I wish him lots of luck and success. If Hashem is in agreement with the dream then he may get there. If not, he may not even be alive in 2024. If that's the case then he will have lived his life with joy and sharing wonderful times with his wife and family knowing that date was coming. In reality we all live with a specific date when our time with family will end - we just don't know when it is.

Anonymous, June 8, 2016 2:25 PM

The question is not whether or not the dream of going to Mars is important. To a lot of people, it certainly is. The real problem is that no dream is more important than parenting your children. Of course people should try to recognize their dreams. But some of those do not lend themselves to marriage and family and people have to consider that very carefully. If they want marriage and family, then they have to be prepared to give up some of their dreams and modify others. This dream of going to Mars is best left to those who don't have families that need them here.

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