Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dreaming...

Dreams are an important factor in a Jew’s life. Historically, many events discussed in the Torah were caused by dreams. When one dreams, he is undergoing a metaphysical experience, which is somewhat comparable to prophecy; in fact, the Talmud tells that dreaming is one-sixtieth of prophecy[1]. However, the Talmud quotes[2] in the name of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai—the author of the Zohar, an important Kabbalistic work— that in every dream is included some nonsensical elements. This seems to imply that dreams are mere nonsense and have no deeper implications for its seer. Furthermore, the Talmud records a third point of view regarding dreams that the meaning of a dream is dependant on its oral interpretation[3]. The most paradoxical of statements in the Talmud regarding dreams comes from Shmuel, who said that his good dreams are true and his bad dreams are false. He uses the two seemingly conflicting verses in Scripture regarding the validity of dreams: One verse states, “Dreams speak falsely”[4], yet another verse says, “Through a dream I will speak to him [Moses (but it can be meant to apply to all people)]”[5]. Many Rabbis—including Shmuel himself–have delved into the science of Oneiromancy, sometimes basing their interpretations of dreams on “The Thirteen Hermeneutical Methods of Expounding the Torah”.

The Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555–1631) attempts
[6] to reconcile all the apparent contradictions in the Talmud regarding the Jewish philosophy concerning dreams, by dividing all dreams into three classes. He explains that the first type of dream referred to is that which about the Gemara stated dreaming is one-sixtieth of prophecy. These dreams are true prophetic visions. The visions of the prophet Balaam were only seen through a dream as opposed to Moses’ visions, which were seen through an Aspaklaria[7], nonetheless, it is clear that dreaming is a type of prophecy. The Talmud writes[8] that although in present times prophecy ceases to exist, HaShem still communicates to His people through dreams. In addition to dreams sometimes being messages from G-d, they can also be a means of the dead communicating with the living[9]. Rav Yosef once fasted for eighty days in order to merit seeing the late Rav Chiyah in a dream at night[10]. In these types of dreams, every ounce of the dream is truth, as their source is the Creator Himself or a deceased individual close residing in Heaven. The binding power of such a dream is so effective that if one merely dreamt of an excommunication, the excommunication is binding and the banned must be “forgiven” in front of ten men to reenter to congregation[11]. This great wielding power afforded to dreams shows that there is a viable point of view that dreams are indeed serious messages and not just mere nonsense.

The Maharsha explains that the second type of dream is not sent directly to the dreamer from G-d, but its source is derogated in the Talmud as a “demon.” The visions in these dreams are vague and neutral, exhibiting neither a positive nor a negative overtone. The meaning of such a dream remains undetermined (“like an unopened letter”) until someone verbally offers an interpretation of it whether for the good or for the bad
[12]. The interpretation stresses elements in the dream unbeknownst beforehand to the dreamer and, thus solidifies those highlighted aspects of potential meaning into omens containing a real prophetic portent. Thus, the Talmud relates[13] that Rabbi Bana’ah went to twenty-four dream interpreters in Jerusalem and they each understood one dream differently, yet all twenty-four explanations actually materialized and eventually transpired. Similarly, says the Maharsha, the third type of dream is also vague, ambiguous, and can be influenced by the interpreter, yet it has a basic charge (either negative or positive) which can only be somewhat mitigated by a proper interpreter.

Rabbi Yehuda Fatiyah (1859-1942) of Baghdad and later Jerusalem, one of the main students of the Ben Ish Hai (Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1832-1909), authored two major works: Beit Lechem Yehuda and Minchat Yehuda. In the latter work, Rabbi Fatiyah explains the difference between an angelic dream and one caused by demons. He writes that an angelic dream is a mere message— from either a deceased person or G-d Himself. As one experiences such a dream, he will remain calm and motionless while viewing the vision. After awakening from such a dream, the dreamer will not be anxious, rather he will continue his calm disposition while he mentally digests the contents of his message in an attempt to decide what actions he should take based on the message. The true meaning of such a dream is already imprinted in the mind of its seer, so the seer will recognize the veracity of a dream interpreter’s interpretation. This is how Pharaoh recognized the authenticity of Joseph’s interpretation of his dream (which was a direct message from HaShem) even before the predicated events occurred
[14].

In contrast, says Rabbi Fatiyah, during demonic dream one feels great anxiety, which is sometimes manifested through physical pain. The exact message of the dream is unclear and confusing, and its image is blurry. Upon awakening, the dreamer feels panicky and anxious to act on the scenes seen during his dream, yet it is unclear what his course of action is supposed to be. The demon behind the dream then puts thoughts of paranoia into the mind of the seer that tell the seer that someone is trying to deter him from achieving his manifest destiny. The foreign ideas put by the demon into the head of the seer causes mental illness and eventual schizophrenia and insanity on the part of the dreamer. To avoid this, Rabbi Fatiyah says, one must properly pray Kryias Shema
[15] before going to sleep because, as the Talmud teaches[16], the Krias Shema has the power to protect those who say it from demons. As a word of caution, Rabbi Fatiyah famously said that any dream in which one of the ineffable names of HaShem was pronounced explicitly has a guarantee of being fulfilled.

The Tosefta
[17] seemingly contradicts the Talmud and states that dreams cause no effect at all, neither positive or negative. Rabbi Don Yitzchok ben Yehuda Abrabanel (1437-1508) separates dreams into two distinct categories (similar to the Maharsha’s approach). One type of dream is merely a psychological reflection of the dreamer’s thoughts and contains no Heavenly messages. The second type of dream, however, is a direct message from G-d to the seer. This type of dream is considered by the Midrash[18] to be a form of prophecy. The famous Jewish heretic, “Sigmund” Shlomo Freud (1856-1939) argued that the foundation of all dream content is the fulfillment of wishes, whether conscious or not. These words echo the statement of Rabbi Yonason in the Gemara[19] that one only dreams at night of matters he or she thought about during the day; however, it is evident from the Gemara that virtually no one else subscribes to this opinion and that dreams are either angelic or demonic in nature. Even according to the Abravanel, this Freudian concept only explains the phenomena behind some dreams, but other dreams are clearly a form of prophecy. To Dr. Freud’s credit, he did quote extensively from the work of Rabbi Shlomo Almoli of Istanbul/Constantinople (1490-1542), who wrote a guide to interpreting dreams called “Pisron HaChalomos”, meaning, “Interpretation of the Dreams”, a title which Freud and Carl Jung copied for their own book.

The Talmud says that it is a bad sign if one has not dreamt in seven days
[20]. Mystics will explain that if one does not dream for seven days, then it is as if G-d has, heaven forbid, abandoning him. However, the simplest understanding of that passage in the Talmud is that it is physically unhealthy for one to sleep for seven days with dreaming; indeed modern-day science attests to the fact that dreaming is a crucial component in healthy human functions. In 1997, Mark Solms of the University of Cape Town in South Africa found that certain patients who suffered from brain damage lost their ability to dream while sleeping. Evolutionists (e.g., the respected magazine Scientific American) claim that dreams only serve the purpose of preparing the brain for sensory input when the eyes, ears, and other sensory organs are still developing. However, this is a faulty explanation because according to its reasoning once people achieve maturity they should cease to dream, yet we find no such stoppage of dreaming when one grows older. The Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderes, 1235-1310) writes[21] that the true purpose of dreams has not been revealed to us.

There is a controversy regarding whether a dream has halachik validity to it or not. As cited above, the Talmud
[22] ascribes such legal power to a dream that an excommunication performed in a dream applies in actuality. Rabbi Menachem Ben Shlomo of the House of Meiri (1249-1310) writes[23] that even when some parts of a dream have been established to be true (e.g., some events predicated actually occurred), there is no Halachic validity to the dream because there is so much nonsense mixed in with the esoteric message of the dream. Rabbi Achai Gaon (an eighth century Talmudist) also writes[24] that dreams have no effect in Halakha. However, the Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda of Berlin, 1817-1893) records an opinion[25] that only in monetary laws are dreams irrelevant, but in laws of ritual, they are very much relevant. Although Rabbi Yosef Ben Ephraim Karo (1488-1575) ruled[26] that the contents of dreams have no particular effect or validity, he himself decided a Halacha based on a dream[27]. Perhaps he was following the opinion of his Israeli contemporary, Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi, who writes[28] that even the Amoraim relied on dreams to decide matters of Jewish law. In 1572, a third contemporary of the two, Rabbi Menachem di Lonzano ben Judah (1550-1624) wrote a book about Talmudic subjects based entirely on his dreams. However, more recently, the Noda BiYehuda (Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau, 1713–1793)–of whom Rabbi Patiah was a reincarnation—decided to disregard[29] all Halachic decisions rendered in a dream.

Many events in early Jewish History were facilitated by dreams. Jacob and his son Joseph both saw dreams that were important to the Jewish nation. In one dream, Yaakov saw
[30] a ladder reaching toward the heaven with angels ascending and descending the height of the ladder. The Bais HaLevi (Rabbi Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) explains[31] that this dream had major connotations for the future of the Jewish nation because it represented their ascent in standing in the world’s hierarchy and their victory of the influences of Esau. Yaakov also saw a dream about cattle[32] shortly before he decided to leave the house of his wicked father-in-law, Lavan. Rabbi Lazer Levy (the menahel of Yeshivas Telz) explains that because Yakov realized that he was spending too much time thinking about his livelihood that he even dreamed about sheep instead of Torah, Yaakov decided to leave the sphere of influence of the evil Laban (who tried to destroy the Jewish Nation in its infancy). Yaakov’s beloved son, Joseph, saw two dreams that were very important to the development of the Jewish nation. He saw eleven stalks of wheat bowing to his stalk of wheat in one dream[33] and he saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing to him in another dream[34]. These two dreams foreshadowed the sons of Israel’s eventual immigration to Egypt and their subservience to Yoseif, who was to be the viceroy of Egypt at that time[35].

Many leaders of other sovereign nations have seen dreams that significantly influenced the history of those nations. King Nimrod saw a dream, which caused him to chase after Abraham for Abraham's entire lifetime
[36]. Forty-eight years later, when Abimelech, the Philistine King of Gerrar, abducted Sarah, it was a dream, which caused him to return the woman to her husband Abraham[37]. The Pharaoh of Egypt saw two dreams that were understood by Joseph as premonitions about a future seven-year surplus followed by a seven-year drought[38]. Since the Egyptian nation was forewarned about this global catastrophe, they were adequately prepared when the famine struck and they subsequently experienced an economic boom with food-purchasers from all over the world buying Egyptian goods. His successor and enslaver of the Israelites saw a dream foretelling the birth of the male savior of the Jewish Nation[39]. This caused the King of Egypt to issue a decree condemning all baby boys born to drowning in the Nile River; this domestic policy was a direct result of his dream. Hundreds of years later, the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar sees a frightening dream that is explicated by Daniel[40]. During the Roman-Persian Wars (in the Byzantine-Sassanid Period), King Shapur II of Persia (309-379) and the co-current Roman Caesar dreamed of being captured by each other, which occupied their thoughts most of the day. Two Talmudists (Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chanania and Shmuel the Amora, respectively) planted that suspicion in their heads by interpreting their dreams as such[41].

The Zohar and the Talmud record many instances of how proper dream interpretation is supposed to work according to the Torah. Many examples that they give involve symbolism of images in the dream, puns, and associations with verses in Tanach. Accordingly, it is within the ability of any Torah Scholar to interpret a dream properly. Even though Rava, an obviously Torah scholar, should have been able to interpret his dreams on his own, he still sought the advice of a professional dream interpreter named Bar Hedya. The Ben Ish Chai explains
[42] that Bar-Hedya used his dream interpreting powers in addition to his knowledge in the ancient wisdom of Palmistry (Chochmas Yad), so Rava (and his colleague Abaye) preferred a combination of both arts in order to predict their various futures based on their dreams.

When one is dreaming of something, he is said to be yearning for that thing (e.g., when Martin Luther King Jr. had a “dream”, he meant that he had a yearning.) When one wishes for something that is deemed too far out, he is branded a “dreamer.” King David wrote
[43], “A song of Ascents: When HaShem will return us to Zion, we will be like dreamers.” Some would explain that the Jews are only dreaming of the Ultimate Redemption, but that, G-d forbid, it will not actually occur. However, the Radak (Rabbi Dovid Kimchi, 1160-1235) explains[44] that when the final redemption does come (and it will), the entire exile into the Diaspora will feel like only a dream compared to the feeling of the Jewish people when the third and final Holy Temple will be built, speedily and in our days: Amen.


[1] Berachos 57b
[2] Brachos 55a and Nedarim 8a-b
[3] Brachos 55b, 56a
[4] Zechariah 10:2
[5] Numbers 12:6
[6] Chidushei Aggadah to Brachos 55a-57b
[7] Leviticus Rabbah 1:12
[8] Chagigah 5b
[9] E.g., see the top of Shabbos 152b, and Mo’ed Koton 28a
[10] Jerusalem Talmud, Kilayim 9:3
[11] Nedarim 8a
[12] Brachos 55a
[13] Ibid. 55b
[14] See Genesis Ch. 41
[15] Deuteronomy 6:4-9 followed by Deuteronomy 11:13-21 followed by Numbers 15:37-41
[16] Yerushalami Berachos 1:1
[17] a compilation of teachings from the Mishnaic era; Ma'aser Sheini 5:6
[18] Genesis Rabbah 17:7
[19] Brachos 55b
[20] Ibid.
[21] responsa of the Rashba, Volume 1 §408
[22] Nedarim 8a
[23] Beis HaBechirah to Sanhedrin 30a
[24] Sheiltos, Miketz §29
[25] Ha’emek Sheilah ad loc.
[26] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat §255:9
[27] see Beis Yosef on the ‘Arba Turim, Orach Chaim §651
[28] Shittah Mekubetzes to Bava Metzia 107b
[29] responsa Noda BiYehuda Second Edition, Volume 10, §30
[30] Genesis 28:10-17
[31] Parshas Vayeztei
[32] Genesis 31:10-13
[33] Ibid. 37:7
[34] Ibid. 37:9
[35] Rabbi Chizkiyah ben Manoach Chizkuni of Provence (circa. mid-thirteenth century) writes (Ibid. 37:5) that perhaps there was a third dream which was not recorded in the Torah because it never came to fruition.
[36] See Seder HaDoros Year 2000
[37] See Seder HaDoros Year 2048
[38] See Genesis, Chapter 41
[39] See Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel to Exodus 1:15
[40] See Daniel, Chapter 4
[41] Brachos 56a
[42] Benayahu to Brachos 56a
[43] Psalms 126:1
[44] ad loc.

9 comments:

Irina Tsukerman said...

I've left a comment several times, but for some reason it disappears. Did you get it? If not, I'll repost it. This was a very interesting post!

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

the comments didn't work here until a few days ago.

Irina Tsukerman said...

OK.

Re-posting:

Thanks for writing this post. I've been fascinated with dreaming and different interpretation of it for a very long time.

In fact, in my psychology class, I once watched a video which provided a link between having dreams and being more adept at certain logic games.

I also had a couple of questions:

1)What makes someone a qualified dream interpreter?
2)Are there any such people nowadays?
3)If there are so many different opinion on dreaming, how are you supposed to reconcile them?

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

1) Depending on the type of dream, anyone can be a dream interpreter, so the answer to 2) is yes.

3) In my humbled opinion, I would use the approaches of the Maharsha and Abarbanel.

liorah_chanah said...

wow, very interesting

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

thank you.

Ruth said...

Hello other Reb Chaim!

As a Junguian analyst and kabbalah student I´d like to thank you for this material. Very interesting and clever synopsis for so important books and authors.

Please, let me know if you publish anything related to dreams, or maybe you can recommend me any book in English...is Dream Interpretation by Rabbi Yehuda Fatiyah available in English anywhere?

Thank you so much. Hope to read more.
Ruth A. Percowicz
gueishlufn@yahoo.com.ar

Anonymous said...

Rabbi. I have been dreaming a lot lately of my late parents and in these dreams I or we have always been travelling or going somewhere. It is getting ridiculous. I never had such a theme behind my dreams, no pattern like this before. It is starting to make me wonder. What can it mean? They are not nightmares, just constant travelling and moving about. I am writing this at 2 am, so if I am up on a computer at this time, I have to be seriously looking. Rav todot. Damond Bateman, yedid Ben-Ami Ben Avraham ve Miryam

Firefighter Paramedic said...

"When a man's soul ascend above as he sleeps, if he is sinful then his soul is cast about from place to place by the forces of the powers of evil, this is why one sees himself in a dream in another country or in another land." (Zohar III, p. 222b).

http://rabbishimon.com/tzadikim/showz.php?p=fatiyah.htm

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