Rabbi Wein.com The Voice of Jewish History

Rabbi Wein’s Weekly Blog
 Printer Friendly


In the English language, the concept of dreams usually has a positive connotation. Negative dreams are call nightmares. In Hebrew, however, the word for dreams is neutral-which connote both positive and happy dreams as well as dreams that are troubling and unpleasant. The subject of dreams is widely discussed in Talmudic and rabbinic writings and in Hebrew literature. In fact there is an entire chapter in the Talmud devoted to our ability to interpret dreams and what, if any, value they have in our lives.

Current medicine tells us that dreaming is a necessary component to getting a good night’s sleep. Most dreams that we may have are not remembered by our conscious self. It is the extremely disturbing dream or the wildly exhilarating dream that may visit us while we are asleep that we are able to recall, sometimes only to vividly, even in our waking hours.
The father of modern psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, based much of his research and medical conclusions on dreams and on their interpretations. Even though today much of Freud's work and ideas have been discarded by modern psychiatrists and psychotherapists, nevertheless we all remain fascinated by his attempt to plumb the depths of the human mind and conscience by the inexact science of interpreting dreams.
The rabbis of the Talmud taught us basic rules regarding dreams. One is that there is no dream, even a prophetic one engendered by Heaven, which is completely accurate in all of its details. The second rule is that the actuality of the dream as enacted in life is dependent upon the interpretation that one gives to the dream itself. These two rules contain a great deal of wisdom not only regarding dreams but regarding human nature itself.
The Talmud relates to us that one of the great rabbis upon having a negative dream quoted the verse in Proverbs that dreams only speak falsely and therefore he need not concern himself with the frightening aspects of the dream. However when he experienced a very positive dream, he referenced the very same verse except his intonation was that of a question – ‘do dreams speak falsely?’ It was in this subtle difference that implied that there was merit in believing the dream that he had experienced.
Since most of us ordinary mortals are not able to make that fine a distinction, the rabbis of the Talmud instituted and recommended a procedure by which an apparently negative dream can be transformed into one that is positive and hopeful. This procedure of negating the negative – somewhat analogous to multiplying a negative by a negative in mathematics thereby arriving at a positive number – is one that is followed even today.  If nothing else, it is a great psychological boon to the person who was troubled by an apparently negative dream.
This follows the rule that the import of dreams is determined by their interpretation and by somehow giving a positive explanation of what is apparently very negative and frightening. The dream itself is transposed into one that is positive and optimistic.
Just as there are dreams that are personal and individualistic, so too are there national dreams. The dream of the return of the Jewish people to independence and prosperity in their ancient homeland of Israel is a millennia old dream. Already we read in psalms that when the Lord returns the captives of Zion to their homeland we will all be as dreamers.
This dream was nurtured by the Jewish people for millennia on end. Even in the darkest days of our long and bitter exile, the dream of Zion and Jerusalem continued to be part of our subconscious and conscious existence. This dream, like all others, was and is subject to the rule established by the rabbis that dreams are not the taken exactly and literally in every detail.
In the words of the rabbis, “just as there is no edible grain that does not have straw within it as well, so to there is no dream that does not have fantasy  accurately portrayed within it." In our time, this national dream of the redemption of the Jewish exiles and their return to the land of Israel is being actualized in front of our very eyes. Nevertheless, not every detail of the dream is really happening.
In general, the reality follows the overall pattern of the dream but the details of this fulfillment of the age-old dream many times are disturbing and troubling to us. These difficult details that are less than idyllic do not conform to the great fantasy of the dream that we dreamt. So, the test of our time is to interpret our dreams positively and to realize that while the great dream is becoming reality, there may always be details that do not quite fit into our predisposed opinions and hopes.
Shabbat shalom
Berel Wein

Subscribe to our blog via email or RSS to get more posts like this one.