June 16, 2024
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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

In this week’s parsha of Vayeitzei we read about Yaakov’s famous dream at Beit El. He dreamed of the ladder that reached between Heaven and Earth. Angels were climbing up and down the ladder. In the course of that dream God promised Yaakov that not only would he protect him wherever he might go, but that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the Earth and that they would inherit the land he slept on. When Yaakov awoke he proclaimed how awesome his dream was. He had experienced a prophetic dream and was inspired.

There are many other instances in Bereishit where individuals experienced prophetic dreams. There was the dream of Avimelech (20:3), the dream of Lavan (31:24), the dreams of Yosef (37:5), the dreams of the butler and the baker (40:5) and the dreams of Pharaoh (41:7.) In fact, the Gemara (Brachot 57b) suggests that a dream is one-sixtieth part of a prophecy. How significant is dreaming? What are we to think of the process?

The experts can provide estimates about how long we may spend dreaming. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average person dreams four to six times per night. We might spend as much as two hours in dreamland over the course of a night’s sleep, reports the National Institutes of Health.

Sigmund Freud was one of the more modern proponents of the significance of dreams. In his famous book “The Interpretation of Dreams” published in 1900, he claimed that all details of a dream, even the most ridiculous, had significance. They contained various feelings and sensations that were pushed out of consciousness because of various social prohibitions. His views were eventually opposed in view of the new scientific knowledge about sleep that became known. However, he and his successors founded the school of psychoanalysis that is still practiced as a licensed profession today.

The Gemara (Brachot 55b) cast aspersions on dream interpreters. Although dream interpreters were typically consulted in ancient times, it was pointed out that if you brought the same report of a dream to 24 different dream interpreters you would probably get 24 different interpretations. Still, it was believed that all these interpretations could possibly come true. How the dream was interpreted affected the outcome. The topic was concluded with a dictum that a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter left unread.

There were some prophets who received their messages only during the course of a dream. Prophecy received in this manner was completely true and had no elements of falseness included. A dream that was a prophetic vision and a teaching from Hashem was as clear and lucid as the light of day, as if the dreamer was awake (Radak on Jeremiah 23:28). The Zohar (Bereishit p 238b) tells us that although people still continue to dream, there is no prophecy or voice from Heaven any longer.

Nowadays, when we speak of pursuing a dream we are speaking of a vision, an aspiration or a goal we hope will one day come true. Typically a dream is composed of three things: vision, persistence and patience. We need to have patience to see our dreams become fulfilled. Nothing happens easily. Nothing happens right away. Still, we have an obligation to dream on. We need to always aspire to reach higher goals for ourselves and our people.

We read in Psalm 20:5 how King David blessed the Jewish nation by proclaiming,“May God grant our hearts’ desires and fulfill all of our plans.” In a similar vein, let us pray for inspiration and fulfillment of our dreams. May Hashem fulfill all of our hopes, dreams and aspirations for the good. May God grant us success in all of our undertakings as we go through life.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is acting president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected].

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