What is a Dream and How Does It Occur?
Does a dream have some kind of message for us? Can a dream’s significance be good or bad, or is a dream just a flight of imagination that can be ignored? A huge gap exists between how modern science, and researchers since ancient times until recent generations perceive dreams and their significance.
In the past, the rational public totally ignored dreams, and considered it an imaginative – mystical phenomenon of no importance. The famous researcher of the mind, Dr. Sigmund Freud, founder of the psychoanalytic method in psychology and other methods, who lived between 1856-1939, stated that a dream is a key to discovering repressed complexes in the human mind.
Freud claimed that when a person is awake, his conscious is alert and doesn’t allow his subconscious to express itself. But when he is sleeping, his guard is down, the conscious’s censor is not active, and his deepest desires which are locked inside his subconscious can come out and reveal what is going on deep in his mind.
Is there a supernatural aspect to dreams? Freud also related to that, but totally negated it. He writes at the end of his book Interpreting Dreams: “And what of the value of dreams in regard to our knowledge of the future? That, of course, is quite out of the question.”
Since Freud’s times, science research has advanced and accumulated reliable and indisputable testimony about dreams indicating that they have predicted the future.
These testimonies, examined under control conditions which insured no possibility of distortion, forced researchers — against their will — to reject at least part of Freud’s view of dreams, despite them remaining perplexed how to explain the phenomenon. After quoting several cases of a dream foretelling the future (see examples in the notes), Judge Dr. Jacob Bazak wrote in his book “Extrasensory Perception” (page 37): “Considering how their many details proved to be accurate, it is very difficult to explain the dreams’ fulfillment as a chance happening.”
Whoever is not dogmatically prejudiced on the subject, must reach the conclusion that it requires serious examination and research, rather than be considered groundless nonsense. There are indeed dreams which can be explained as the subconscious perception of events that actually happened, some attribute it to telepathy, and others interpret it as just chance. However, dreams that clearly predict the future and cannot be explained in any other way, cannot be simply dismissed.
A tested scientific way to research the prophetic capability of a dream has yet to be found. Despite the confusion that surrounds the phenomenon of foretelling the future through dreams, some researchers have reached definite conclusions since the phenomenon is indisputable.
The country who pioneered research in this field is Great Britain. After a large number of people foresaw in a dream the disaster of a coal dump collapsing on a school of children and burying 128 children and 16 staff members alive, they opened a scientific institute researching dreams that foretell disasters.
What does the Torah say about this? Does it totally negate dreams, as was the attitude of researchers in the past, or does it see it as a psychological phenomenon, as Freud did? Will we forever remain in the dark — similar to many researchers in our days — about this wondrous phenomenon which has at times predicted the future?
(Because it is a relatively new field of study which has nevertheless yielded many impressive testimonies, we decided to present at the end of this chapter an entire article which appeared in the Israel Parapsychology Association, Vol. 10, pages 9-12.)
Well, it turns out that the Torah scholars were far in advance of past researchers, Freud, and even contemporary researchers. Their explanation is clear, comprehensive, and clears the fog surrounding the subject of dreams. It provides a convincing answer to all the questions we raised.
A famous journalist who works for one of the large dailies, told me after a lecture on the subject of “Dreams and their Significance According to the Torah”, that finally, after participating in many scientific lectures given by the best professors and psychologists in the field, she finally heard an explanation that is sensible, logical and convincing.
She came to hear the lecture after searching for an explanation of dreams due to a personal experience. She saw in her dream one night that she was sitting in front of several rabbis who told her in unison: “Get up quickly and save your daughter!” She arose in a panic, went to her daughter´s bed and discovered that an
electric blanket had caught on fire. Her daughter´s life was saved because of the dream. Since then, she says, she has undergone a revolution in her attitude to the spiritual dimension of the universe.)
Before we can bring the words of the sages about dreams, we must first briefly relate to sleep itself. Only after we understand what sleep is and how it occurs, can we start to understand why dreams occur when a person is sleeping.
Several cases have been publicized of how a child’s life was saved by a dream.
Consider the account reported by Maariv newspaper which was also publicized in the Israel Parapsychology Association journal (No. 15, p 33):
“On Friday night, right before midnight, Dafna Rot-Levi, a resident of Chadera, suddenly awoke and cried out to her husband: ‘Jacob! I dreamed that the baby is choking!’ Her husband leapt out of bed and rushed to the crib of their baby — 8-month old Avi Meir — and found him almost dead, his eyes open but not breathing.
“The father shouted for his wife to immediately summon a doctor. and then began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while his right hand vigorously massaged the baby´s heart. A few minutes later, the baby´s breathing returned. The doctor arrived at the same time, and after examining the child, declared he was out of danger.”
Besides this case, I know another two similar cases.
The Torah explicitly teaches what science has only discovered today — that the true “I” of a person is his inner spiritual self, which is wrapped in a garment of flesh and bones. Just as a garment of wool and cotton can not walk and move unless a person is inside it, so is it with the physical human body.
(Modern science confirms this after centuries of scorning it, in light of documented phenomena such as regression, seances, people experiencing clinical death who came back to life, and souls who appeared as when they were alive. You can view the detailed research and facts in “Nine Answers and a Question” from the “Torah from Heaven” series, Chapter One, and in “Torah and Science.”
1) If death is not a cessation of existence but the real person leaving his garment of flesh and bones, then what is sleep? A sleeping person is not really dead, but neither is he completely alive. He is unconscious and lying listless like a dead person, he doesn’t pick up what is being said and doesn’t sense what is happening around him, but he´s still breathing, and can be woken up! The Talmud (Berachot 57 b) states: “Sleep is a sixtieth of death.” This means that the process and state of sleep is similar to the process and state of death, but at a much lower 1/60th dose.
This means that there is a slight separation of the soul from the body during sleep. So how do people breathe in their sleep, and how do they “come back to life” afterwards? The great kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto tells us in his book “The Path of G-d” (Part III, Chapter I) the view of the Talmud and the kabbalists. When sleeping, a certain part of the soul leaves the body and goes up to heaven, allowing the body and the mind to rest. (It is well known that the soul has five parts:nefesh (mind), ruach (emotions), neshama (spirituality), chaya, and yechida.), Because part of a person’s soul leaves him during sleep, sleep is defined as a sixtieth of death.
At death, the soul is detached from the body and the body becomes inanimate. When a person sleeps, however, he is still breathing and alive, but is unconscious because only part of his soul has left his body. These parts return to the body after the hours of rest that he needs, or when he is woken up. (Calling out loud the name of the sleeper, or hearing a sudden loud noise, can bring the soul back in a panic. The deep breathing or panting which a person exhibits even before opening his eyes upon being woken suddenly, is evidence that the soul has returned.)
2) For those interested in a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of sleep, we will briefly point out that the kabbalists taught that meat does not need sleep. For the human soul to function, it must occasionally receive illumination from a heavenly source (like an empty battery that has to be recharged). That’s why resting without sleeping (i.e. without the soul leaving the body part), doesn’t refresh a person.
If the spiritual illumination which illuminates and nourishes the soul would be channeled into the soul when the body is awake, the body would be unable to tolerate its powerful current and would suffer burnout. It’s like streaming very high voltage into a plain bulb or pouring boiling water into a thin glass cup. This is why the soul has to leave the body to receive the illumination. It leaves the mind behind, but all the other parts of the soul leave.
This is why we pray in the morning “I deposit my ruach in your hands.” The word “nefesh” is not used because death occurs when the nefesh departs. When is theruach deposited with G-d? During the phenomenon that we call it “sleep”. After it receives its required illumination, it returns to the body and energizes and reinvigorates it. This is the meaning of the verse we say upon arising in the morning “I thank you… for returning my soul (= neshama); Your trustworthiness is great.”
This also explains why a person falls asleep exhausted but wakes up fresh. A piece of flesh can not become tired or fresh, these processes only take place in the spiritual soul. This is all explained in the Gate of Introductions by Rabbi Chaim Vital, Discourse 3.
So what is a dream? Our sages tend to condense their extensive, profound wisdom into a few, short words and so did they do here.
Let us first hear what the Bible and Talmud says, and then we will look at Rabbi Luzzatto’s explanation, which seems to contradict them.
It is stated in the Bible: “Dreams speak falsely!” (Zachariah 10:2) and “In a dream, a vision of the night … He opens the ear of men” (Job 33:15-16).
The Talmud says:
“Sleep is one sixtieth of death. A dream is one sixtieth of prophecy. Honey is one sixtieth of (the sweetness of the) manna (which the Israelites ate in the desert). The Sabbath is one sixtieth of the World to Come (the great spiritual pleasure of the Afterlife). (A Sabbath observer who fully observes the Sabbath in a likeminded community, truly feels this way.) Fire of This World is one sixtieth of Hell.“ (Berachot 57b)
It is also stated in the Talmud: “Just as you cannot have wheat without chaff, so you cannot have a dream without nonsense.” (Berachot 55b) “Dreams show a person what he is thinking about”, as it says (Daniel 2:29): “You, O king, your thoughts came while on your bed…” (Berachot 55b)
After all the above introductions, we can now explain what dreams are. We already explained that sleep occurs when certain parts of the soul leave the body. The supine body breathes and remains alive due to the part of the soul that remains, but it is unconscious, and is unable to stand, walk, listen or understand.
The fact that we can stand when awake is only due to the soul “holding up” the physical body against the law of gravity. So when a soul leaves the body, the body falls down in accordance with the law of gravity. For the same reason, a dead body (or even a sleeping body!) is heavier and weighs more than the same body when it was alive. The parts of the soul leaving the body during sleep are the more spiritual and pure parts (chaya, yechida, ruach and neshama). When a person is awake, these parts perform the superior functions of cognitive thinking, retrieving data from memory, analyzing, decision making, and activating the body, etc. The lower nefeshwhich enables breathing, imagination and other “simple” actions, remains in the body during sleep, so breathing and imagination continue to operate during sleep.
This explains how a man can see himself in faraway places, win the prizes he desires, and even see frightening disasters occurring in his dreams.
It is part of G-d’s kindnesses to us that sleep helps relieve us of tensions, fears, hopes and desires while enabling us to rest and gain strength. It enables a person to wake up to the new day feeling like a new man, physically and mentally.
3) Flesh is incapable of any functions. Because the different parts of the spiritual soul lodge in the body’s organs, it gives the impression that those organs are able to think (the brain) or to feel emotions (the heart), and so on. This is explained in greater detail in the booklet “Secrets of the Torah” in the “Torah from Heaven” series, Chapter 7, note 19.
Concerning most dreams, Scripture states: “Dreams speak falsely!” because they have no practical significance, and are only intended to relieve a person’s tensions and fears so they don’t pile up and cause a mental breakdown. Nevertheless, one can still learn from a person’s dreams about what’s going on inside him.
The air in our world is full of spiritual beings and frequencies that, were we able to see them with our flesh and blood eyes, we would see a bustling and noisy world rather than transparent air. Imagine if we could see the numerous germs in the air and on every object, or radio waves, radiation, etc. With the suitable equipment to pick these things up, we can see these things in the form of moving images, sounds, etc.
In fact, Biblical verses and our sages tell us that the air is full of wandering spirits of people who left their physical bodies, and other spiritual beings, about which researchers are only now finding out. If we couldsee what we have to. .