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TOPIC TITLE: Dreams in the Talmud and In-Depth Psychology
Created On 7/24/13 5:46 PM
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(Originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Mind, Body & Soul)

By Susan Vorhand


A dream can provide a perspective unknown to consciousness. Carl Jung saw the dream as a hidden portal to the innermost recesses of the soul, “the utterance of the unconscious.” The unconscious contains the seed, the possibilities for future experience.

According to the Jewish perspective a person is a partnership of body?made up of the dust of the earth, and soul?some particle of the Divine. There is an idea within the Talmud that all spiritual realities have a counterpart in the physical world so that we can experience a taste of them. Accordingly, Talmudic sages claim that “Sleep is one sixtieth of death” and “Dreams are one sixtieth of prophecy”. (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot, 57b).

The Talmud says that not a thing transpires on earth without having first been announced in a dream. The message in the dream is delivered in its own particular code?its own language?which must be deciphered to be understood. To determine the veracity of a particular dream one must examine the principles by which the interpreter made his decisions; for example via a study of the stars, of the dreamer's character, of the foods he had consumed before retiring, etc.

Though we can be pretty certain that Freud did not study the Talmud, the Talmudic interpretation of symbolism is similar to that of Freud. The Talmud describes many dreams, covering many different categories; visions of places, activity, animals, fruits, etc., and reveals their significance (Babylonian Talmud Berachot, 55b-58a). Jung believes that the symbols chosen by the dream are highly significant to the dreamer. Jung, along with Freud, believed that much of the content of the psyche is repressed and suppressed material. He sees the psyche as autonomous, having its own purpose and function and teaches us that we must look to our own inner world?perhaps to that Divine essence that is within us to guide us and to help us find meaning in our lives.

This unequivocal statement is found in the Talmud: "A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is unread" (Babylonian Talmud Berachot, 55a). This clearly indicates that dreams are useful messages and furthermore qualifies that a dream must not only be read but must also be interpreted for deeper meanings. This would seem to indicate that there is something about dream content that must be worked through in order to derive its full import.

Rabbi Elazar says: "Every dream is in accord with its interpretation as Rabbi Elazar says ...we learn this from Genesis (41:13) and just as he interpreted it, so it was (Babylonian Talmud Berachot, 55b). That is, the meaning of a dream, or the interpretation of a dream, varies with the interpreter.

In the Hebrew language, clues to the meaning of the word is hidden within the word itself. The word for 'dream' in Hebrew, is chalom?whereas chalam means to heal, cure or strengthen, and ahlam means hidden or unactualized. There is also a close similarity between chalom (dream) and chalon, the Hebrew word for 'window', as if the words are telling us that there is a connection in their meanings as well and implying that the dream is a window to the soul.

Judaism contains rituals in regard to dreams, their meaning, and their outcome. During the Priestly Blessing (recited on the Three Festivals a year and also on Yom Kippur), while the priest is bestowing his blessing upon the people, they in turn are quietly saying a prayer constructed under intricate Kabbalistic laws, requesting that their dreams turn out for the good. In case the dreams were bad, they plead with God that those too should turn out to be for the good (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55b; Siddur,p. 697).

The Keriyas Shema al Hamitah, the night-time prayer said just before going to sleep (Siddur, p.289), contains a hope and a prayer for good dreams and an entreaty to God that He return the soul to the body in the morrow. The belief is that God is guarding the soul during the darkness of sleep?sleep, which is related to death as you’ll recall. Thus the request: to be returned in a state of vigorous and sparkling light (Siddur, p. 289).

Additionally the Modeh Ani prayer is recited immediately upon awakening after which the practicing Jew is to do a ritualistic washing of his hands, similar to that which is done when he returns from a cemetery. The reason for this is, as mentioned earlier, in Judaism sleep is considered to be one sixtieth part of death. Even as the body has been allowed to refresh itself during sleep, the soul has been given an opportunity to refresh itself via its spiritual excursion.

Depth Psychology, as we know, also places a high value on dreams. Accordingly, in dreams one experiences the continuity of the soul as one gets submerged in his or her inner world; a dialogue is created in confrontation with the unconscious. A subsequent dream may be a continuation of a previous one, but is also a reaction, an answer to the work done by consciousness. That is, the dream sequence is not just a continuous series, but between interpretation and the understanding of the conscious ego and the material offered by the unconscious, there is an interchange of questions and responses. In this way the life process is complete by uniting the life of night and day. The ego no longer feels lost and dependent, delivered up to an overpowering and mysterious world of the soul, but rather is interwoven in a continuum. Besides the day's remnants and images of friends and family, personified components of the personality appear in dreams: split off and repressed parts, former stages of the ego and attitudes, undeveloped tendencies, and the still infantile germs of development yet to come.

Thus, with some knowledge of the richness and the meaningfulness of concepts in the Talmud and regarding the nature and the mechanics of dreams, their message, and their value, we learn that what the Jewish tradition teaches has some things in common with Depth Psychology's approach and also demonstrates some interesting differences.
Susan Vorhand holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. With her Soul-Centered approach to healing and therapy she lectures and facilitates programs and workshops. She has numerous articles published and is the author of the book The Mosaic Within: A Healing Alchemy of Self and Soul, recently translated into Hebrew.

References:
Babylonian Talmud: Berachot. (Hebrew-English Edition) (1984). R.D.I. Epstein (Eds). London: The Soncino Press.
Freud, S. (1913). The Interpretation of Dreams . New York: The MC Millan Company.
Fromm, E. (1950). Psychanalysis and Religion. New York: Yale University Press.
Johnson, R. (1986) Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth . New York: Harper and Row. Jung, C.G. (1989). Memories, Dreams, Reflections . New York: Vintage Books.
Kaplan, A. (1982). Meditation and Kabbalah . Maine: Samuel Weiser Inc.
Newman, L.J. (1945). The Talmudic Anthology . New York. Behrman House, Inc.
Rossi, E.L. (1985). Dreams and the Growth of Personality . (2nd edition.) New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Siddur Kol Yaakov/The Complete Artscroll Siddur . (1984). New York: Mesorah Publication.
The Torah: A New Translation (1962). Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.
 
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