Jewpernatural? What Jewish learning tells us about our dreams

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I often dream about bridges. Very high ones, seemingly with questionable structural integrity.

What do these mean? Dream analysis usually equates a disorienting height to an obstacle one may be facing. From the perspective of Jewish learning, the meaning of dreams is more ambiguous. It may be worth considering the dream as a prophecy. . . or it could be utter nonsense.

Dreams were the subject of study at the first session of Jewpernatural on May 3 at the Morris & Ann Lazaroff Chabad Center in University City. It was the first in a series of classes led by Rabbi Yosef Landa that explore the Jewish view on the paranormal and the superstitious.

When we experience vivid dreams, scary dreams, or pleasant dreams, they may reflect a deep meaning, but it depends on the context.

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“Even when dreams seem significant, they can be insignificant,” Landa said.

Turning to the Torah, dreams play a significant role in the Book of Genesis, and Pharaoh had so many weird dreams that he employed a phalanx of dream interpreters. In the end, Jacob’s 11th son Joseph correctly interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, which saved the Egyptian people from seven-year famine.

Sometimes a dream warrants drastic action, Landa said. He pointed to the ancient practice of fasting after a scary dream to nullify any negative prophecy.

“We normally are not allowed to fast on Shabbat. An exception to that rule is if you have a disturbing dream,” he said.

One school of thought is that dreams can be manipulated, as evidenced by a Roman emperor who said to Rabbi Yehoshua: “You Jews claim to be very wise. Tell me, then, what will I see in my dream tonight?” Rabbi Yehoshua replied, “You will see the Persians capture and enslave you and force you to herd pigs with a golden staff.” The emperor thought about this vision all day—and sure enough, that’s the image he saw in his dream.

The Talmud tells us that a dream is 1/60th of prophecy, Landa said, so every dream has some importance. However, some dreams can be largely dismissed. The latter involve negative dreams caused by demons. In this context, demons refer to one’s own destructive daytime thoughts that can affect a person. Those dreams, created by our imagination, should be no cause for alarm.

On the other hand, dreams created by angels, (our positive daytime thoughts and actions) can be mini-prophecies. The caveat is, don’t trust everything in a dream. In general, Landa, said, Jewish learning tells us that dreams are often simply a reflection of our waking actions. However, it can be useful to pay attention to our dreams, especially those that can inspire us to become better people.

“Dreams are significant and can have importance,” he said. “G-d alone controls our destiny, but sometimes we can help change the direction and shape our own destiny.”

The Chabad Center’s Jewpernatural series will continue each Wednesday, with upcoming sessions to cover stars and signs, jinxes and the evil eye and the paranormal. More information is available here.