From the Introduction
They inspire us and frighten us, amuse us and bewilder us. They make a lasting impression, yet we are libel to forget them in a split second. They are at times mysterious and enigmatic, colorful and fantastic, yet at other times ridiculous, bothersome and illogical. They have changed the course of history, caused people to rise and fall from power and revealed the future to prophets, kings and the common person. Dreams are all of the above and much more.
To call someone a dreamer is usually taken as a belittling statement, a sign of a lazy personality or one with a tenuous grip on reality. Yet, to say someone has a dream has the connotation of a visionary who is driven by both idealism and destiny. To dream is to fanaticize in the most crude or lofty sense and this is exactly the paradoxical nature of dreams.
In this book we hope to examine the essence and meaning of dreams – from the practical to the mystical. We will investigate dreams in the context of Jewish tradition, as well as touching on modern ideas espoused in psychoanalysis. We will try to understand the source of dreams in the body, mind and soul of man, and trace the connection of dreaming to the very roots of human consciousness.
A most fascinating subject we will contemplate is the very fine line between subjective and objective; what exactly is a dream state and what constitutes “reality.”
We will present as well ideas of how various dream like states can be used to not only enrich reality, but to create it as well. Dreams are the substance reality is made of and reality is the fuel feeding the fire of dreams.
In a book of such short length we can only hope to set before the reader various texts, sources and ideas, which may then be used to open up new doors of perception and new gates of understanding. We hope the reader will find these ideas personally useful and relevant, inspiring a new appreciation for the importance of dreams and ultimately motivate a deep inner quest for the mystical meaning of dreams.
From “Dreams in Jewish Tradition”
The main themes underlying all the dreams of Genesis are the notion of dreams being either a channel of Divine inspiration and prophesy, or as the means through which Divine messages or signs are transmitted to the dreamer. Despite there being in many of the dreams expressions of inner struggle and unconscious psychological pressures, which are classic formulas for understanding the psychological source of many dreams and a subject we will be delving into in greater depth later in the book, there is no doubt that the main thrust of Biblical dreams are prophetic in nature or the instrument of Divine intervention.
A beautiful allusion to the connection between dreams and prophesy is seen in the following numerical correspondence. The root of the word for dream appears forty-eight times in the book of Genesis and another seven times in the other four books. These numbers corresponds exactly to the statement in the Talmud that there were forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel ( Megilah 48a).
This numerical correspondence alludes strongly to an essential connection between dreams and prophetic states of consciousness. The Talmud in fact states that dreams are one-sixtieth of prophesy ( Brachot 57b). Although we will be investigating many other elements and forces that create the images and dynamics of dreams, the prophetic theme as portrayed by the ten dreams of Genesis have no doubt left a major impression on the Jewish people and the world at large.
From “Dreams in Jewish Tradition”
Along with the ten dreams of Genesis there are two other cardinal events that occur in Genesis involving a state of deep sleep – when God separated a side of Adam in order to form woman and when God forged a covenant with Abraham.
Before God separated woman from man, Adam, according to tradition, was an androgynous being. The psychological view that both man and woman have, along with their primary male or female consciousness, the opposite consciousness as well, is rooted in understanding that once man and woman were united in one body and one consciousness. The formation of separate male and female entities occurred on the physical plane, yet we all at our source still maintain a certain mixture of both states of mind.
The deep sleep state of Adam during the process of separating Eve can be understood as not only a sort of anesthesia, but as a metaphor of this primordial act taking place in the deepest levels of the human unconscious, the same source of dream states (Genesis 2:21). The emphasis in the Kabbalah of the unity of masculine and feminine is based on a profound awareness of the unity from which we all trace our primordial source. The first covenant God made with Abraham, even before circumcision, was the covenant with the land: “On that day God made a covenant with Abram saying, ‘To your descendents have I given this land…” (Genesis 15:18). Preceding this statement God revealed the future of the Jewish people to Abraham in an unconscious state: “And it happened as the sun was setting a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold an awesome great darkness fell upon him” (Genesis 15:12). The revelation and the covenant occurring in a deep sleep state represents the transcendence of logic when it comes to Jewish history and the relationship between God and the Jewish people, as well as the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Even a superficial overview of history shows that there is no historical precedent for the miraculous survival of the Jewish people and their unbreakable attachment to the land of Israel. Similar to a dream which transcends normative logic, so too Jewish history transcends all precedent and reason.
From “The Paradoxical Nature of Dreams”
The Marasha, who wrote a deeply insightful commentary on the Talmud, offers an explanation to understand the various seeming contradictions in the three pages of Berachot as how dreams follow their interpretations, through categorizing three types of dreams. The first type of dream is one with no particular meaning, rather it is open to many different interpretations. This is a dream that is like an unread letter. Giving an affirming spin to this sort of dream strengthens the positive aspects of the dream and in so doing gives it an energy that can then be transformed into reality.
A second type of dream does have a certain prophetic direction or message to the dreamer, but even these dreams can be turned for the good through repentance, heeding the message and drawing the proper conclusions. As we pray on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur: “Repentance, prayer and charity remove an evil decree.”
The third type of dream has true prophetic meaning and is destined to come true. This, for example, is the type of dream Rava said comes from an angel. Many of the Biblical dreams fall into this category and they fulfill what God told Miriam and Aaron that in a vision or a dream He would speak to his prophets.
When some of the Sages said dreams are not prophetic they meant the first type of dream, in which no absolute outcome is determined, but is open to many different possibilities and conclusions. A positive interpretation will therefore help determine its basic energy and how it manifests itself. It is also this sort of dream that may be total nonsense, or the result of fasting, or other physical or mental disturbances, which then translate themselves into dreams which should be discarded. Rava calls these dreams those that come through the agency of a “demon,” which can be understood to be a negative, unbalanced, inner psychic force.
Knowing which type of dream we are dealing with is perhaps the deepest of questions relating to dreams. For this answer one needs to pray for true Divine guidance. The ability to identify the source of ones thoughts, feelings and behavior is dependent on what is called in Chassidut – the art of clarification – which is
intrinsically connected to the faculty of imagination.
From “Dreams and the Mystery of Time”
It is not just in the whimsical world of dreams or man’s subjective perspective that time is elastic. Despite the long held notion that the flow of time is constant under all circumstances, Albert Einstein proved that time in fact was not an absolute constant, but is effected by gravity and velocity. This has been shown many times by clocks sent into space returning with a different time than earth time. As velocity approaches the speed of light time slows dramatically, till at the speed of light, time as it were stops, and past and future merge into an eternal present.
This mystery of time is alluded to in the verse: “And Abraham became old, coming into days, and God blessed Abraham with everything” (Genesis 24:1). The word “old” refers to an advanced level of wisdom which Abraham reached, allowing him to transcend the normal strictures of time. “Coming into days” alludes to the world to come, which is not just a future dimension reached after death or a new state of reality to be revealed after the advent of the Messianic era, but is a time that is always coming, the future already revealed in the present.
The key to the correct interpretation by Joseph of the dreams of the butler, baker and Pharaoh was his ability to translate the physical objects and their numbers to periods of time. Rashi comments that the magicians of Pharaoh interpreted the seven cows and the seven kernels of wheat as the numbers of daughters he would give birth to and the number of daughters he would bury or the kingdoms he would conquer, but then lose. Only Joseph could see the intrinsic connection between space and time, another of Einstein’s great discoveries.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh explains that time is the inner dimension of space, in that all change to the three physical dimensions only occurs through time. The Sefer Yetzirah (3:3) discusses five dimensions: three of space, one of time and one of soul. Science, which now posits time as well as space as dimensions, still has not reached the discovery of “soul,” the Divine dimension that gives life force to reality and fills it with a valued purpose, as a real and active dimension. Time serves as the intermediary between the dimensions of space and soul, between the physical world and the spiritual worlds. Even here though science recently has accepted the effect consciousness has on reality, and the time is probably not long off when science will come to understand “soul” as a dimension as well.
Time assumes its role as intermediary due to the insurmountable “distance” between the infinite light of God and finite physical worlds. For if that light would shine directly into the worlds one of two things would happen. Either the physical world would be totally nullified by the tremendous influx of Divine light and would cease to exist, or in order not to overwhelm the physical world the light would become subservient to the lower worlds, which would then lose its Divine purpose for existing. Therefore the light of God assumes a pulsating rhythm of “running and returning,” at every moment both enlivening all the worlds and retreating in order not to overwhelm those same worlds. This dynamic, rhythmic current creates time, where every pulsation is a “segment” of time. In this way time is the bridge connecting the dimensions of space to the dimension of soul.
This very idea lies at the basic understanding of light being a stream of tiny packets or particles of light called photons. These tiny packets are called quanta, from which we arrive at the term quantum physics. One of the greatest paradoxes of science is that light acts as both a particle and a wave. This mystery of light is intrinsically connected to the mystery of time. Both light and time which appear to be like a constant flowing stream are at their very essence Divine pulsating energy.
Joseph was able to see the inner essence of time enlivening the symbols in the dreams and interpret them accordingly.
From “Prophetic Allusions”
Although the age of the prophets ended long ago, the “shadow” of prophesy is still accessible, especially in our dreams. Almost everyone at some point has a dream of events that subsequently happen. These occurrences fill us with wonder and awe. Not just in dreams does this happen. How many times does the thought of someone pop into our minds and a few minutes later he or she calls. Or we think of someone we haven’t thought of in ages and upon returning home there is a letter in the mail box (or in our times our e-mail). These eerie events give us the feeling that in life there is much more than meets the eye.
Similar to dreams which transcend time, so too prophesy entails the future being shown in the present. We have discussed how ultimately both the past and future exist in the present. When God reveals future events to the prophet, he is glimpsing the future (or a possible future) in the present. Most of the time, the soul is held down by the “gravity” of the body and earthly influences. But on occasion, when it either consciously propels itself upwards, or unconsciously manages to drift above material bounds, the soul can access a matrix where all dimensions are ever present.
We saw how almost all the dreams in the Bible are prophetic or messages from God. Sometimes the message is quite clear and unambiguous, while other times the information is coded in allegory and symbols. Moses alone communicated with God “face to face;” all the other prophets received their prophesies in visions and dreams. For the prophet these messages were very much like dreams in that they needed to be interpreted. Those prophets who succeeded in clarifying their powers of imagination and intellect were able to interpret the signs and symbols.
From “Dreams, Reality and Torah”
We return to a verse we have quoted a number of times in order to glean from it one more perspective: “A Song of Ascents: When God will return the captivity of Zion we will be as dreamers.” The Radak comments that when the redemption comes we will wake up as from a bad dream. In other words, the exile is compared to a bad dream, whereas redemption is considered to be an “awake” state. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch adds an interesting viewpoint: when Israel is in exile they are like dreamers who are out of touch with reality. Only when the redemption comes will Israel awake and realize how much and how deeply they influenced all the nations during their journeys in exile.
The Malbim explains just the opposite – the redemption will be like a dream come true in comparison to the harsh reality of the exile. All the years of dreaming of redemption will turn into reality.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh states that along with the more normative explanation of exile being a state of sleep, as alluded to in the verse in Song of Songs (5:2): I am asleep [in exile], but my heart is awake [longing for redemption],” an even deeper Chassidic teaching is that the time of redemption will be such a miraculous dream, it will be beyond whatever the mind can fathom now. For the redemption will be a time where all paradoxes which now seem illogical or impossible will be fully understood and revealed.
It is stated in the Talmud as a proof that dreams are products of ones own thoughts, that one is never shown in a dream something totally impossible like “an elephant entering into the eye of a needle” (Brachot 55b). Rabbi Ginsburgh states that at the time of the final and consummate redemption it will be possible for an elephant to enter through the eye of a needle, something which today seems the epitome of absurdity. The innovation to be manifest at the time of redemption is that which is infinite will be revealed within the context of the finite. This is the metaphor of an elephant fitting through the eye of a needle.
As always, these two seemingly opposite opinions as to which state of being – exile or redemption – is a dream and which is reality are both correct, which is exactly our point. There obviously is an element in each that can be compared to being asleep and dreaming, and being awake to reality. Many poets and writers throughout the ages have used the metaphor of people living their lives as if perpetually asleep and dreaming. For those who have ever had periods in life when they felt totally uninspired and bored by their work, their relationships, their prospects in life, this metaphor is not far off the mark. This also applies to those who daydream endlessly of desires they will never fulfill, of places they will never go and goals they will never accomplish – for them life can seem like a bad dream.
From “The Place”
“Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: Surely God is in this place and I did not know.” Rashi comments that had Jacob known that God was present he certainly would not have slept in such a holy place. Perhaps a deeper reading of the text is that Jacob was expressing a new understanding – that God not only surrounds and animates creation, but is ever present in space itself. With this awareness Jacob was internalizing a similar revelation of Abraham, when he built an alter and called to God – El Olam – which is usually translated “God of the World.” Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh teaches that if the text meant “God of the World” it would have an additional letter hei – El HaOlam. The truer translation is God [is the] World.
This teaching is parallel to the Chassidic statement that when the Torah states that there is none other than God, it means that “God is all and all is God.” This is not similar whatsoever to a pantheistic view that God is no more than the sum total of the universe, rather it expresses the belief that there is nothing else than God and though God surrounds all worlds and is beyond time and space and all description, He is at the same time ever present in every moment of time and every point of space. The following statement perhaps best represents the above paradoxical understanding of God: “He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place” (Bereshit Rabbah 68:9).
Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai praying for forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf. As part of the process of forgiveness God revealed to Moses the thirteen principles of compassion. God revealed to Moses that no one can see God’s face and live: “and God said, Behold! There is a place with Me, you may stand on the rock. When My glory passes by I shall place you in a cleft of the rock; I will shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand and you will see my back, but My face will not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23). Rashi comments that the text states there is a place with Me and not that I am in this place, for God is the place of the world, but the world is not His place.
The face of God is direct revelation, something beyond the grasp of any finite being. The back of God is His “hiding” in nature, in the reality of time and space. The Arizal taught that all matter, animate or inanimate, large or small, exists due to a spark of God animating it. Jacob who had spent his entire life cloistered in the tents of Torah was now encountering the world, as it were, for the first time. His great revelation was that God is truly everywhere, permeating all existence. This revelation is the first step in the process of uniting physical and spiritual, Jacob’s life work and mission.