Dreams as the texts of our lives

The material in the ninth chapter of masechet berachot (from 55a – 57b) dealing with dreams and their interpretation is fascinating.  Allow me to share a few thoughts about these tantalizing texts.

I believe that the struggle the rabbis face with dreams is actually an attempt to recover the ability to experience direct communication from God.  To live in a world that had prophecy and then feel as though that ability has been lost, must have been devastating.  In berachot and elsewhere we see the Rabbi trying to revive a deep connection with the divine that they no longer feel.

Bavli, Berachot 55b

Shmuel, when he would see a bad dream would say they speak dreams of nothingness.  When he saw a good dream he would say, and can it be that they speak dreams of nothingness for behold it is written I will speak to him in a dream.

Rava asked [the following contradiction] it is written they speak dreams of nothingness and it is written I will speak to him in a dream. There is no problem – here the dream was sent by an angel and here the dream was sent by a demon.

Here the early amora Shmuel relates to dreams in a cynical fashion – seemingly he does not experience dreams, or their interpretation, as a moment of divine connection.  Rava, however, already steeped in Sassanian Babylonian culture, experiences the moment of a dream as a message from a divine source.

Rav Hisda, early on in the extended sugya says, “A dream uninterpreted is like a letter unread.”  Rava understood that Rav Hisda meant to teach us that the one sending the dream may in fact be the Holy One.

Rava makes an even more powerful claim towards the beginning of masechet hagiga:

Bavli, Chagiga 5b

And I will certainly conceal my face on that day (Deut 31:18) Rava said, “The Holy Blessed One said, ‘Even though I concealed my face from them, I will speak with them through a dream’”

If only we were able to capture our dreams and understand them as moments of divine communication.


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