Amelia Holcomb’s D’var Torah
Dreams. Or in Hebrew, “chalomot.” We have them every night, but a great deal of mystery still surrounds them. Some people believe that they give insights into the future, while others insist that they are our inner voices struggling to put in an opinion about our daily lives and decisions. Yet others think that dreams reveal the turmoil of emotions within us, and there are many more ideas beside these. Dreams are, in fact, talked about in the Torah. Jacob has his famous dream with angels going up and down a ladder, and Joseph has a dream earlier in the torah potion where everything bows down to him. In my Torah portion, “Vayeshev,” Joseph interprets the dreams of his two fellow prisoners, predicting, correctly, that one will die while the other will be honored by the pharoah. In Vayeshev, dreams are a direct prediction of the future. As I studied this portion, I began to wonder who is really interpreting these dreams, God or Joseph. At the very beginning of my reading, Pharoah’s courtiers tell Joseph they need someone to interpret their dreams, and Joseph says, “Surely GOD can interpret.” But then he says, “Tell ME your dreams,” directly contradicting himself. After the chief cupbearer has told his dream to Joseph, Joseph says, “This is ITS interpretation.” He doesn’t say, “This is MY interpretation;” he uses “its.” If God were to interpret a dream with all of God’s powers, surely that interpretation would be “THE” correct interpretation, if there is one. But at the end of my portion, it says that both their dreams came true, and then it says, “just as JOSEPH had interpreted to them.” Supposedly, God wrote the Torah, and this line is from the writer’s point of view, so it sounds like God is of the opinion that Joseph interpreted the dreams! So, this definitely started me wondering, who actually interpreted these dreams? Whenever I tried to decide that it was God, the blaring evidence that it was Joseph stopped me in my tracks. But once I had concluded that it must have been Joseph, I remembered why it must have been God. It seemed like the Torah just couldn’t make up its mind. Finally, I found a new idea, an idea that would use evidence from BOTH sides: what if they did it together? Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God came and sat with Joseph and they figured it out together. They could have figured it out together in the sense that without God, there would be no Joseph to interpret any dreams! By saying, “surely God can interpret,” maybe Joseph means, “surely God’s creations, who hold some of God in themselves, can interpret.” But as long as you are saying “God OR Joseph,” you are assuming they are two separate things. What if they work together? It could go something like this: God is inside Joseph. God does the thinking, while Joseph does the talking (and probably some gesticulation too). With this theory, God is in Joseph’s brain. But in that case, as the brain controls the body, God is controlling everything, and doing all the work. Why couldn’t Joseph be in God’s mind? Perhaps prophets aren’t allowing God’s thoughts and words into THEIR minds, but instead, they are somehow going deeper into their minds to enter another, greater Mind: God’s Mind. One idea of Judaism is that everything has a little bit of God in it. Perhaps what is happening when a prophet hears from God is that they put their minds into the little piece of God inside of them, which somehow receives messages from a "bigger God." So when these dreams are interpreted, it could be that little piece of God inside Joseph doing the interpreting. Hassidic thinkers sometimes refer to God as the Great Brain of the World. But let’s take a step backward. Where do dreams come from, and what makes them worth interpreting in the first place? One obvious idea about dreaming, is that whatever we think about during the day, enters our dreams at night. The Talmud says, “A man is shown in a dream only matters that are already in his own thoughts.” This makes sense; if you think about how mean some girl at school is all day, you’ll fall asleep thinking about her, and thus dream about her all night. But if everything were that obvious, then nobody would bother interpreting dreams. Often, dreams don’t seem related to our daily life. One psychological explanation for this comes from Sigmund Freud. He says that dreams are our subconscious minds struggling to speak through symbols. If you pretended that that mean girl at school wasn’t really hurting you, then that night, you might dream of a wounded dog lying in the road. That doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with a mean girl, but after interpreting it, you could understand how that dog was a symbol for your emotions. However, there is also a more spiritual explanation for the symbolic quality of these dreams. Could that piece of God that exists inside us, be responsible for our dreams? In my search to explore whether dreams might come from God, I came across two Jewish sayings. One: “Sleep is one-sixtieth of death.” And two: “A dream is one-sixtieth of a prophecy.” Looking at the first one: “Sleep is one-sixtieth of death.” According to one creation story, God has a little piece of Gods self in each of us. Around the universe is “the big God,” and when we die, the little bit of God in us goes to rejoin that big God. While we are alive, however, there is some sort of barrier between us and God. I think that that barrier IS us: our thoughts, betrayals, ideas, etc. Our brain is always flicking around until we die, and then our soul, or mind, relaxes, and allows us to let that little bit of God free. When we sleep, our brain is more dormant than usual. So perhaps that little piece of God can get one-sixtieth of the way through that barrier, to the big God. Thus, sleep is one-sixtieth of death. Now the second idea: “A dream is one-sixtieth of a prophecy.” When we sleep, we dream. I think that the idea of dreams being one-sixtieth of a prophecy mimics the idea of sleep being one-sixtieth of death. Think of God as “the big prophecy,” the one who controls and creates all prophets and prophecies. When you sleep/dream, you are one-sixtieth of the way to the Big God, or the Great Prophecy. This explains why dreams hold significance—because when we are asleep, the piece of God inside us, that gives us the clear vision of the prophets, is less blocked by our thinking minds, and closer to the Big God. Hassidic thinkers call this the removing of the veil that separates us from God. Wow. Every night, we get a message from God. But, that message really doesn’t matter unless we make it matter. The Talmud says, “A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” We have to interpret a dream, and carry out its interpretation, for it to hold significance in our lives. Earlier in this portion, Joseph dreams that he is destined to be great. If he simply had these dreams, but had never believed he could be so great as to work with God, nothing would have come out of his dreams. In other words, carrying out a dream requires courage. It’s one thing when God speaks to a character directly, like Abraham or Sarah. In those stories, God guarantees that certain things will take place if people follow God’s directions. But there are no promises in dreams. As Peter Pitzele says in a book called Our Father’s Wells, “Joseph’s [dreams] guarantee no future, no promised land. They hint at power, but they are after all only dreams, full of the ambiguity of dreams. It requires a certain courage to follow such dreams, to enter them, to live them out.” I often wonder why God doesn’t talk to us today. I mean, in the Torah, God seems to talk to everyone-Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses. How come God has gotten so quiet? In the Torah, God gives these people things to do: Noah must build an ark, Abraham must go forth from his father’s land, Moses must save the Israelites. Is there nothing for people to do now? A very quick glance at our world tells us that there is a lot of room for improvement. So why isn’t God talking anymore? Maybe God is talking to us, just not directly. After all, in the Torah, God generally talks to people alone, on top of a mountain or in the middle of the wilderness, rather than as a group. God gives one person the burden of helping everyone else. But with the wonders of modern technology, God might have a hard time getting heard over the Saturday morning cartoons, or your cell phone conversation. Especially in a busy city like New York, it’s hard to hear yourself think, let alone hear God talking to you. Instead, God talks to us through our most private time: dreaming. As Yeats wrote, “In dreams begin responsibility.” Just as each of these people from the Torah were responsible to do as God told them, so are we. If we leave that unopened letter lying on the table, we are never giving what that letter says a chance to mean something, to change our life, even in a small way. We are responsible for interpreting that dream, but we have to go farther than that. Just as Joseph had to find the courage to carry out his dreams, so do we. Each of us has something that we need to work towards. Dreams are one way of God showing us a path towards the fullest life possible. When we wake up with that path fresh in our minds, we have the chance and responsibility to follow it wherever it may lead. Today, I am taking on so much responsibility as a member of the community, as a Jew, and as an adult. As I looked back at my path to this day, I wondered if there had been any dreams that I had had that might have been symbols, telling me about my responsibilities. I remembered one dream that I had a couple nights before my first lesson with Alicia, my Bat Mitzvah tutor. I dreamed that I was walking (I don’t have any idea where) but I was tired and cold. Suddenly, I felt myself flying and I wasn’t tired anymore. Everybody was looking up and smiling and then I swooped around in the clouds. The next thing I heard was, “Amelia, get up!” and that ended my dream. I think that I remembered this dream because I flew in it, and I have wanted to fly like a bird ever since I can remember. I think that this dream was telling me about my responsibility as an adult. When you are a kid, you have to walk everywhere, which means that there are often only one or two paths. As an adult, however, you are given the chance to fly. In the sky, you can take any direction that you want, and with freedom, that brings on a responsibility that you hardly ever have as a child, with your paths outlined for you. I think that this dream might have been God, telling me about how long I would have to walk, and keep trying to choose the right path, until I could finally spread my wings. I think that my descision to have a Bat Mitzvah was my choosing a path to the take-off field. A Bat Mitzvah is like a little reach above the trees, a short hover, one-sixtieth of really flying. It takes a whole lifetime of studying and struggling with Torah and Judaism to learn how to turn and swoop and soar and turn in just the right way to be who you are as an adult and as a Jew. That dream was just the beginning. Shabbat Shalom.