WHAT IS IN A DREAM?
by Rav Dr. E. Blumenthal (adapted from Rav Blumenthal’s book Trials and Challenges )
THE BIBLE contains over fifty references to dreams. One of the earliest is Jacob’s ladder:
“And he dreamed, and, behold, a ladder stood firmly on the ground, its top reaching the heavens, and angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it…And Jacob awoke from his dream…” (Gen 28:12)
A cause of the strife between Joseph and his brothers was his dreams:
“‘Here comes the dreamer,’ say the brothers. ‘Let us slay him, and then let us see what will become of his dreams!’“(Gen 32:19)
Joseph is thrown into a pit and eventually sold to traders, who bring him to Egypt. Pharoah’s dreams as interpreted by Joseph lead to Joseph’s appointment as Viceroy of Egypt, and to the saving of his family from famine.
The ensuing period of slavery in Egypt and eventual Divine redemption (the Exodus) were foretold to Abraham in a dream vision:
“A deep slumber descended upon Abraham and a horror of a great darkness enveloped him…. ‘your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them’….“(Gen 15:12-13).
The revolutionary covenant between G-d, Abraham, and the people of Israel was revealed in association with this dream.
But is a dream not the very antithesis of reality? Why, then, should we take notice of it?
The realism attached to dreams in the Jewish mind is evident in the silent congregational prayer that accompanies the priestly blessing on holidays:
“O G-d – remedy our dreams, heal them if they stand in need of healing, and correct them. And, if they are good dreams, support them and bring them to fruition“.
In the bedtime prayer, G-d is asked to spare us bad dreams. If a person experiences an upsetting nightmare, special prayers have been prescribed to set at ease the mind of the dreamer. A further measure to correct a bad dream is a fast. In extreme situations, such a fast is permitted on Shabbat.
Dreams and Prophecy have some connection according to the Rabbis Here is a summary of some Rabbinic statements about dreams:-
“A man is shown in his dreams only what is suggested by his own thoughts.“
Reality is not only our body, but also includes our inner life as this is revealed to us in our dreams. The Rabbis declare that a dream is a variation of prophecy – “a sixtieth of prophecy” –
“Just as there can be no grain without straw, so can there be no dream without meaningless matter.“
“Three dreams are fulfilled: one early in the morning; one that another person dreamed about you; and one that is interpreted whithin the dream itself.“
There is a relationship between dreams and prophecy. “In a dream, a vision of the night, when a deep sleep envelops men as they slumber on their beds. Then He opens the ears of men, and by disciplining them, leaves His signature – to turn man away from an action, to suppress pride in man.” (Job 33:15-17)
The highest level is prophecy, when G-d makes His will known to the prophet, telling him of events to come, so that man may prepare himself, or that he may avert a calamity by altering his conduct.
“If there be a prophet among you, I the L-rd make myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream“. (Numbers 2:6) This is genuine prophecy, which ceased with the last of the Biblical Prophets.
Freud, Jung, Adler and Frankl – four giants in dream interpretation – could be told of the same dream and come up with four different interpretations – for different people. The Talmud states:
“All dreams depend (or are to be judged) on their interpretation.”
Today, we call this dream therapy. You describe your dream to the psychotherapist, who in turn will relate to it in the manner in which you described it to him, analyzing it and perhaps prescribing a course of action – which you may adopt or reject. In other words, the interpretation of a person’s dream directs the dreamer’s inner drives, as these are reflected in his dream, in the direction given to him by the interpreter or therapist.
“An uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter.”
This personalized dream interpretation can have a dramatic impact on the dreamer.
In conclusion both the interpreter/therapist and the dreamer can play a meaningful role in translating the dream vision into positive and constructive realization.