dreams talmud Feb 13, 2019


“A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is unread” -Talmud Berachot, 55a

What is the Jewish view of dreams? Dreams have always agitated and fascinated people. Indeed, the study of dreams goes back to ancient times. The question that has always existed is whether dreams have any significance?

1. Psychology

According to Sigmund Freud in his book The Interpretation of Dream, he claims that all details of a dream even the most ridiculous of them have significance. In his view, dreams represent the subconscious, which the person usually suppresses due to social prohibitions. During waking hours, logical tendencies predominate, not allowing instinctive desires to be .expressed and satisfied. According to Freud, these desires are primarily sexual

Though Freud’s theories have been rejected, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts do not contradict the fact that dreams are important and have significance. According to psychoanalysts such as Adler and Jung dreams are important and express other contents, such as aggressive tendencies or various personal desires.

Jung goes deeper into the significance of dreams refers to the Collective Unconscious, a deeper level than the Personal Unconscious. Jung meant by this, an experience that is inherently human. The symbolism that occurs in the psyche of individuals represents patterns that pertain to mankind as a whole.

A dream that is not understood remains a mere occurrence; understood, it becomes a“ living experience.” ~ Carl Jung

Jung believes that the symbols chosen by the dream are highly significant to the dreamer. Jung, along with Freud, believed that much of the content of the psyche is repressed and suppressed material. He sees the psyche as autonomous, having its own purpose and function and teaches us that we must look to our own inner world—perhaps to that Divine essence that is within us to guide us and to help us find meaning in our lives. Jung saw dreams as a true, objective statement of what is taking place in the psyche—what is necessary for the individual to know.

However, most Psychologists say that dreams do not have any significance. The main purpose of dreams is in order to forget some learned material, thereby producing “cleanliness of the head” and to liberate brain energy to gather other and varied material.

According to all the opinions above, they do not suggest that dreams need to be interpreted. They are rather just reflective of ones hidden desires or the activity of ones memory, which appears in the form of a dream.

2. Judaism

In Judaism, however, there is considerable amount of literature on dreams, which seem to reflect a totally different view. In Jewish thought dreams not only have significance but they can be even out-of-body experiences receiving important messages to the person.

The book of Genesis is scattered with dreams of the Patriarchs and others. The first dream
is (28:12), Jacob dreamt of a ladder standing on the ground with its head in the heaven and angels ascending and descending. This was a message to Jacob that there will be new angels accompanying him during his journey to Charan replacing the angels who accompanied him in Israel (Rashi). Similarly, the dream of Joseph and the eleven stars (37:5) were a message that Joseph would in the future reign over his brothers in Egypt.

3. Talmud, Berachot, 57b

“Sleep is one-sixtieth of death” and Dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy”

4. Talmud Berachos 55b- “Dreams follow the mouth”

The Talmud in a series of interesting stories states that the realization of all dreams follows the mouth, i.e. the import of a dream depends upon the interpretation given to it.

R’ Bana’ah says that there were twenty-four interpreter of dreams residing in Jerusalem. Now, he says, once I dreamt a dream and I went to each of them to ask for its interpretation. And that which this one interpreted to me was not the same as that which the other one interpreted to me; rather, I received twenty-four interpretations for the same dream. Yet, all of .these interpretations were realized for me, as indeed, each predicted event in fact materialized

According to this statement of the Talmud there is no such thing as a negative or positive dream. If a dream is interpreted positively it becomes a positive dream and if interpreted negatively it becomes a negative dream. Theoretically, a dream can be negative and positive at the same time, depending on its interpretation.

5. Annulling a negative dream

The talmudic statement that a dream depends on how it is interpreted, puzzling to the more philosophically minded, is discussed in the Responsa of Solomon Ibn Adret (The Rashba). Based on a talmudic passage, a special ceremony developed of interpreting for good a bad dream. The procedure was for the man who had the dream to say to three other persons: “I have had a dream and do not know what to make of it”; and they would reply: “The dream is a good one and is for your good”.

Many people, disturbed by a bad dream, would fast in order to ward off the possible evil effects. The rabbis allowed such a fast to be undertaken even on the Sabbath in order to release the man from his anxiety but they required him to undertake another fast for having fasted on the Sabbath.

6.Not to be interpreted literally
However, this view is contradicted by the bulk of Talmudic literature related to dreams. The Talmud (Berachos 55b) states, Rav Chisda said, ‘a positive dream’ is not destined to be fulfilled in its entirety nor is a ‘negative dream’. This is derived from the fact that Joseph saw in his dream, in addition to the eleven stars, the sun and the moon, reflecting his two parents, Jacob and Rachel, who would also become subservient to him. This is despite the fact that Rachel, his mother, passed away before the dream was realized years later in Egypt.

7. The interpretation feels right

The Midrash Rabba (69:6) states Rabbi Joshua of Siknin said in R. Levi’s name: There were indeed interpreters of the dream, but their interpretations were unacceptable to Pharaoh. He explains that the necromancers interpreted the dream that seven good cows mean that Pharaoh will beget seven daughters; the seven ill- favored cows, that you will bury seven daughters. The seven full ears of corn, that you will conquer seven provinces; the seven thin ears, that seven provinces will revolt against you.

Joseph’s interpretation:

According to this analysis of the story of Pharaoh’s dream, it is evident that the reason that Pharaoh did not accept the interpretation of the necromancers was not because he knew that whatever interpretation was given would follow the mouth of the interpreter and therefore for whatever reason did not accept their interpretation but rather because there was a single absolute interpretation which only Joseph offered and therefore satisfied Pharaoh.

This enforces the above-mentioned contradiction to the statement of R’ Bana’ah that realization of dreams follows the mouth, implying the possibility of more than one interpretation to a dream and the absence of negative or positive dreams.

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