Dreaming a scary dream

The rabbis' view of dreams and visions as a medium of communication by God is based on the verse in Haggai 5b "Although I have hidden My face from Israel, I will communicate with him through dreams." The tractate Berakhot (in the Babylonian Talmud) declares dreams and their interpretation to be "a 60th part of prophecy,"[*] and devotes several tractates to the subject.

In this context, a beautiful prayer is suggested for "he who has seen a dream and knows not what he has seen" (either having forgotten the dream or else not knowing whether it augured good or ill). The confused dreamer is advised to stand before the Priests at the time that the Priests spread their hands to utter the priestly benediction in the synagogue service, and to utter the following words:

"Lord of the Universe! I am Yours and my dreams are Yours; a dream have I dreamed and I know not what it is. Whether I dreamed concerning myself, or my fellows dreamed concerning me, or I dreamed concerning others, if they be good dreams, strengthen and fortify them (and may they be fulfilled) like the dreams of Joseph; but if they require to be amended, heal them as the waters of Marah were healed by the hands of Moses our teacher, as Miriam was healed from her leprosy, as Hezekiah from his illness, and like the waters of Jericho were sweetened by the hands of Elisha. And as You turned the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so do You turn all my dreams for me into good."

The rabbis further advise that the individual try to conclude his prayer simultaneously with the Priest, so that the congregation responds with "Amen" (an Amen which would thereby cover his prayer as well!). But if he cannot conclude at the same time, he should add to his prayer: "You! majestic one in the heavens, Who abides in might, Who art peace and Your name is peace. May it be Your will to grant us peace."

Most fascinating here is that the dream is not presented as a decisive portent of one's future at all. The individual does not ask God to change a certain reality or destiny as foretold in the dream, but to strengthen or heal the dream itself. The dream itself is seen as malleable, as putty in the hands of the Creator; it can be turned into good or bad, channeled constructively or destructively. Seen this way, the prayer is a call for emotional strength, for the ability to deal with the messages that come our way in life with optimism and faith. The congregation thus becomes the perfect support group, offering a collective shoulder with its hearty "Amen."

And so may all of your dreams be — for good and for blessing. And your prayers, a source of strength.

Tradition has preserved several versions of the prayer that refers to the dreams one may have had. It was only as relatively recent an authority as Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) that introduced the custom of having the prayer recited during the Priestly Blessing on Festivals, not only by certain individuals but by the entire congregation (so that it will have reference to all the dreams that have been dreamt by any member of the congregation since the last Festival, not only concerning the individual himself but also with regard to the dream of others concerning his own person.)

[*] Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55b [back]

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