I woke up very early this morning. My husband, was getting ready to go to shul. I then uttered the words he has come to dread the most: “I had a dream…” He claims that for the 50-plus years we have been married, ka”h, he has been responsible not only for what he has said or done while awake, but also for what he has said or done to me in my dreams. I don’t presume to be an expert in the field, but I do have some thoughts on the subject of dreams and their interpretations.
The Talmud (Brachos 14a) states that “a person who fails to dream at least once in seven days is called ‘ra,’ a wicked individual.” My brother-in-law, Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, a psychiatrist of renown, explains this to mean that since dreams are classically understood to be repressed desires, if a person has no deeply buried desires that emerge in a dream state, it suggests that he is actively giving rein also to behaviors that should be contained. What a comfort to those who dream frequently!
Indeed, dreams have been a common theme throughout our history. Yaakov Avinu dreamed of a ladder grounded on Earth that reached to the heavens. Among other messages, it conveys that our mundane, daily lives can in fact be transformed and elevated to the spiritual realm. In Yosef Hatzaddik’s dream he saw his parents and brothers, symbolized by the stars of the heavens, bowing down to him. As we learn subsequently in the text, this was prophetic.
Years later the brothers do indeed bow down to him, unaware that he is now the viceroy of Egypt. The theme continues as Yosef correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and butler in prison. The accuracy of his interpretations eventually launches him into prominence when Yosef proves to be the sole interpreter to provide a cogent explanation for Pharaoh’s own dreams. The descent of Yosef’s family to join him in Egypt marks the beginning of both slavery and redemption for klal Yisrael.
It appears that all of the aforementioned dreams were future-oriented. The content of my own dreams, however, is often the past. I sometimes have frightening dreams of my parents, z”l, siblings and me running away and being pursued. I know that since I was born during World War II, there are residues in my consciousness of a past that cannot be totally eradicated.
Not infrequently, dreams that women have about their relationship with their husbands reflect a deep-seated misgiving that they do not fully appreciate their spouses, and conversely, that they also need reassurance that their husbands value them. The overriding message to me, however,is an implication drawn from the abovecited comment of my brother-in-law, that since dreams express deeply-rooted negative aspects of our lives, they should then liberate us in our waking hours to pursue positive attitudes, goals and behaviors.
Since the past is accounted for in my dream life, my marching orders, as I see them, are that I need to be oriented to the present. I need to understand that my well-being is dependent on myself alone, flowing from the inside out. It’s not my distant or even recent past that determines my emotional health, nor is it any particular circumstances: whether people care about me enough, whether my husband and children are sufficiently attentive, whether I am poor or rich, sick or healthy.
We certainly hope and pray that Hashem will bless us with abundance. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, our emotional wellbeing is our choice. Our nemesis, the force working against us, is a culture that is determined to selfdestruct, furiously seeking solutions in what psychiatrists term “the speed trap.” Many people have become quite literally addicted to fast-paced living. As one put it, “We are tethered to our phones, our tablets and our computers. Thanks to these devices, we have more information at our fingertips, and we have it faster than ever before. The constant notifications and incessant pinging conditions us to look forward to that next email, the next text, fueling an agitated inner state. The link between speed and success is continually reinforced by American culture.” Consider Sarah, a perfect case in point.
An extraordinarily gifted and talented individual, it is virtually impossible to have a conversation with her without her constantly texting and checking her cell phone for messages. When I recently expressed my frustration, it was clear from her reaction that her behavior was so ingrained that she was totally clueless. I tried to explain that her relationships with her husband, children, friends, and most importantly with herself, suffer from her inability to give any one of them her undivided attention. While the addiction to technology gives the illusion of connection it is, in reality, a massive disconnect. Clearly, a relationship is not the input of information; it is something that takes time, attention and reciprocal interaction.
Perhaps most significant is that the illusion it creates distracts us from understanding that it is our essence we should be pursuing and connecting to others. Indeed, it is only when we shut out the technological noise that we will be able to hear the voice of our true inner selves. There is no such thing as technology of the spirit. We dare not allow ourselves to become prisoner to manic, frenzied pursuits that can devour the best part of our lives.
I urged Sarah to declare a block of time each day technologyfree and surround herself with people who will hold her accountable. I assured her that eventually she will learn to pause and reflect naturally, and reclaim control over her life.
In conclusion, Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “When Hashem will restore Zion to us, we will be like dreamers.” The commentaries explain that when the redemption comes, we will look back with a clarity of vision and realize that the lives we lived were mere dreams, illusions with no inherent reality. Reality exists only when we are marching towards our personal G-d-given Zion, the essential neshamah that resides inside us all.