Monday, July 25, 2011

Interpreting Dreams

Art: Sharon Tomlinson

written by Chanan Morrison

The Sages made a remarkable claim regarding dreams and their interpretation: "Dreams are fulfilled according to the interpretation" [Berachot 55b]. The interpreter has a key function in the realization of a dream. His analysis can determine how the dream will come to pass!

The Talmud substantiated this statement with the words of the chief wine-butler: "Just as he interpreted, so (my dream) came to be" [Gen. 41:13].

Do dreams foretell the future? Does the interpreter really have the power to determine the meaning of a dream, and alter the future accordingly?

The Purpose of Dreams
Clearly, not all of our dreams are prophetic. Originally, in humanity's pristine state, every dream was a true dream. But with the fall of Adam, mankind left the path of integrity. Our minds became filled with wanton desires and pointless thoughts, and our dreams became more chaff than truth.

Why did God give us the ability to dream? A true dream is a wake-up call, warning us to correct our life's direction. Our eyes are opened to a vivid vision of our future, should we not take heed to mend our ways.

To properly understand the function of dreams, we must first delve into the inner workings of Divine providence in the world. How are we punished or rewarded in accordance to our actions?

The Zohar [Bo 33a] gives the following explanation for the mechanics of providence: The soul has an inner quality that naturally brings about those situations and events that correspond to our spiritual and moral level. Should we change our ways, this inner quality will reflect that change, and will lead us towards to a different set of circumstances.

Dreams are part of this system of providence. They constitute one of the methods utilized by the soul's inner quality to bring about the appropriate outcome.

The Function of the Intepreter
But the true power of a dream is only realized once it has been interpreted. The interpretation intensifies the dream's impact. As the Sages taught, "A dream not interpreted is like a letter left unread" [Berachot 55b]. When a dream is explained, its images become more intense and vivid. The impact on the soul is stronger, and the dreamer is more primed for the consequential outcome.

Of course, the interpreter must be insightful and perceptive. He needs to penetrate the inner message of the dream, and detect the potential influences of the soul's inner qualities that are reflected in the dream.

Multiple Messages
All souls have imperfections. All souls contain a mixture of good and bad traits. A dream is the nascent development of the soul's hidden traits, as they are beginning to be realized. A single dream may contain multiple meanings, since it reflects contradictory qualities within the soul.

When the interpreter gives a positive interpretation to a dream, he helps develop and realize positive traits hidden in the soul of the dreamer. A negative interpretation, on the other hand, will promote negative traits. As the Zohar [Miketz 199b] admonishes:

"A good dream should be kept in mind and not forgotten, so that it will be fulfilled. ... Therefore Joseph mentioned his dream (to his family), so that it would come to pass. He would always anticipate its fulfillment."

It is even possible to interpret multiple aspects of a dream, all of which are potentially true. Even if they are contradictory, all may still be realized! Rabbi Bena'a related that, in his days, there were 24 dream-interpreters in Jerusalem. "Once I had a dream," he said, "and I went to all of them. No two interpretations were the same, but they all came to pass!" [Berachot 55b]

Dreams of the Nation
These concepts are also valid on the national level.

Deliverance of the Jewish people often takes place through the medium of dreams. Both Joseph and Daniel achieved power and influence through the dreams of gentile rulers. The Jewish people have a hidden inner potential for greatness and leadership. As long as this quality is unrealized, it naturally tries to bring about its own fulfillment — sometimes, by way of dreams.

When a person is brought before the Heavenly court, he is asked, "Did you yearn for redemption?" [Shabbat 31a] Why is this important? By anticipating and praying for the redemption, we help develop the inner quality of the nation's soul, thus furthering its advance and actualization.


in the vanguard said...

I once read a sefer by Luzzato, I think, that asked: If some dreams are prophetic and others not, then how does one discern between the two?

He says, "Because THEY KNOW!" That is, the effect of the prophetic dream is that it leaves you with an imprint of its future truth. When a prophet woke and dreamed such a dream, he simply KNEW and FELT this dream was, in fact, prophetic.

Devorah said...

Exactly. They are totally different to regular dreams. You never forget them (ever) and you just KNOW.
Some people have them, some don't - you get what you need in this world.

Channa said...

I have been interested in, and keeping a journal of my dreams for over 30 years.

Jewish Sages say (I don't know the exact source reference, perhaps Channan can help)those dreams which carry most importance for the dreamer are:
a)dreams, or dream-themes that repeat themselves. For example: For many years I dreamed driving dreams. Then, after I was married, I went through a house-dream stage. Now I'm in a taking-a-class dream stage.
b)dreams at dawn, and/or right before you wake up. I've found great importance in remembering what dream-me, or dream-conversation-partner said right before I wake up.
c) the word-choice in which you remember the dream. For example, in recording one of my driving dreams I wrote that I was "winging-it", which, upon later introspection, was exactly how I had been relating to my avodat-Hashem at the time.

Devorah said...

Thanks Channa.

Shiloh said...

Its also sometimes good to keep those dreams to yourself, as seeing them fulfilled in a dream is bad enough as to see them fulfilled in reality.

Devorah said...

Shiloh: We're not really talking about bad dreams: but if you do have bad dreams, or if you have the same bad dream 3 times, there is a procedure to annul it.

For a not-so-bad dream, rather than keeping it to yourself, it's better to tell the dream to someone you trust to give you a good interpretation of it. And give tzedaka.

Shiloh said...

Why would I want it annuled? I don't think you would want it annuled either. No interpretations are needed..

Devorah said...

If the dream indicated a bad decree against you, why wouldn't you want it annulled? or re-interpreted?
Anyway, I'm no kabbalist, go here if you want to know more.

Shiloh said...

Certainly not against me. No magician needed, thanks anyway.