There is a profound inter-connectedness of dreams, reality and Torah. In the perception of time, in the manifestation of prophesy and in the cardinal role and purpose of symbolism, dreams, reality and Torah merge and converge continually. Especially in the realm of the soul and consciousness the lines are so often blurred as to be non-existent. Where one begins and the other ends, is far from clear.
The Radak comments on the words from the Psalmist – “When God will return the captivity of Zion we will be as dreamers” – 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: 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 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 an 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 right, 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.
Then there are those who dream and work to make their dreams come true, turning fanciful visions into the nuts and bolts of reality. For those who are inspired and believe that dreams come true, no aspiration is unreachable. Their dreams are more “real” than real, as they draw on an ideal future vision and make it real in the here and now.
For one on a very lofty spiritual level his dreams, especially if consciously directed before sleep, tune him into planes of reality just as real as what we call reality from a lower perspective. Jewish tradition, prayers and text are replete with reference to angels, holy beings, spiritual worlds, unseen dimensions. These ideas which were once thought of by science as figment of the imagination and poetic license are now the subject of modern quantum physics and cosmology text books. Time as a dimension (let alone string theory which posits ten or eleven dimensions or more), black holes, parallel universes, time dilation, the theory of relativity, light acting as both a particle and a wave etc stretch the imagination and in many cases fly in the fact of logic, yet have been proven in the laboratory. Our concept of reality is today what science fiction writers a hundred years ago were dreaming about.
When analyzing the word for dream, chalom, by each of its letters we saw how the letter lamed, the tallest of the letters, represented the aspiration of the heart. A well known saying from the sages is: when will my actions reach the level of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Every Jew should aspire and dream about acquiring the soul aspects that made our Patriarchs so elevated and holy.
There is a custom to recite the following words when waking in the morning from a dream: “dream or reality?” The numerical value of that statement in Hebrew, chalom omitziut equals exactly the names of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The question is if our striving to be like our great ancestors is real or just a fleeting wish that vanishes in the morning like a forgotten dream. On a deeper level it is not so much if our dreams are real, it is whether we have the courage and fortitude to make our dreams reality.
The metaphor of dream or reality takes on a new perspective according to a teaching of Isaac of Homil, a great Chassidic teacher. Based on Kabbalistic ideas he states that Adam Kadmon, “primordial man,” the name of the very highest of the spiritual worlds is in a dream state, that is, this primordial level of the Divine creative process is in a superconscious state of “dreaming.” On a deeper mystical level it could be said that all existence is happening in God’s “head,” that all that exists is the dream of God.
The word kadmon, primordial, equals 200, the same as the letter reish, which means “head.” Adam Kadmon represents in the highly symbolic language of Kabbalah the primordial source of the ideal plan of Creation while still within, as it were, God’s thoughts. As a person first visualizes that which he wants to build or accomplish and only later finds the practical means to bring his vision or dream into reality, so too, as it were, God first envisions creation deep within His infinite being and will, and only later implements his vision to create. Creation then is the actualization of the primordial dream of God and all history is the actualizing process of transmuting that dream into reality.
The blueprint and plan for creation is both hidden and revealed in the Torah, the express reflection of Divine will. The world, olam, comes from the root that means “to hide.” Paradoxically, the world is both the revelation of God and the hiding of God within nature. The last two letters of chalom are identical with the last two letters of the root for world and hiding. As life is an ongoing process and cycle of revelation and hiddeness, so too dreams both reveal and hide meaning. Spiritual growth depends on revealing that which is hidden, finding God in every situation and moment of life. God still speaks to us within the essence of our souls, through the Torah we learn, by way of the circumstances of our lives and in the images of our dreams. By envisioning and dreaming of a perfected future, the purpose of each individual and all of creation, we manifest that dream in reality. By uniting our thoughts, speech and deeds with the will of God we enable the dream of God to come true.