Dreaming in Hebrew

Ever since the publication in 1900 of Sigmund Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams," twentieth-century thinkers have wrestled with the notion that dreams have meanings beyond themselves. Interestingly, the same can be said for the Hebrew word for dream, (halom).

Some scholars believe that the verb (halam), "to dream," and the verb (halam), "to be in good health," are related. Moreover, they hold, both of these words are connected to (helmon), the yolk of an egg, and to (holam), the vowel (o).

A skeptic may well ask, "How so?" It goes something like this: The root (het, lamed, mem) originally meant, "to be soft, "moist," "viscous." One might say that one is healthy because one "has good humors" and that the verb (halam) means "to gather humors," that is, to sleep well, therefore to dream. And, maintaining the liquid imagery associated with the term, a highly authoritative Biblical dictionary says that the Hebrew word for dreaming can also mean "to experience an emission of seminal fluid." Talk about Freudianism!

And what does this have to do with the yellow of an egg or a vowel? According to a medieval book of Hebrew roots, the yolk is called (helmon) because, cholesterol notwithstanding, it is the healthful (i.e., nutritious) part of the egg. And the (holam)? When you write a (holam), you are creating what the grammarians call a plene (i.e., a full) reading. Says grammarian Abraham Ibn Ezra: Make the sound "O" and then look at your lips; they make a strong, full circle.

It appears from this discussion that dreaming is a good thing, no? Not necessarily. As used in the Bible, the word (halom), when it means "dream," may be good, bad, or indifferent. Just ask Joseph's brothers, who derisively referred to their sibling as, (ba'al ha-holomot ha-lazeh), "that damned dream-master." Or ask Pharaoh's baker, who lost his head to a dream. On the other hand, if you were to ask Joseph or Daniel, you would be told there is much profit to be gained from being an accurate interpreter of the dreams of kings.

The Rabbis were similarly divided about the beneficence of dreams. The Talmud relates that a (halom shel shaharit), morning-dream, is likely to be true. If the dream portends evil tidings, there is a way to nullify it: One can take on oneself--even on Shabbat, when it is normally forbidden to fast--a (ta'anit halom), dream-fast. If you are not sure whether a dream is bad or good, you may recite the Ribbono Shel Olam meditation of the Priestly Blessing, in which you aver, (ani shelakh ve- halomotai shelakh), "I am yours and my dreams are yours."

In modern Israel, the real estate section of the newspaper might advertise a (dirat halom), a dream apartment. Or, if you are not well-grounded in reality, you may be charged with having (halomot be-aspamyah), "dreams in Spain." Somebody who crosses the street without looking might be said to be having (halomot be-hakitz), daydreams.

And when you tuck the children into bed at night, you always wish them (halomot paz), literally "golden dreams."

We conclude our discussion by mentioning another ground-breaking book written during our century, whose title echoes that of Freud's: Eliezer Ben Yehuda's (ha- halom ve-shivro), "The Dream and Its Interpretation." When you hear little children speaking Hebrew on the streets of Israel, you realize that neither Ben Yehuda's dream nor its meaning has been buried in the collective subconscious. It is right out there on the surface (manifest destiny and all), for all to see and hear.

DREAMS Table of Contents



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