The following is an abridged version of an article which appeared in the second edition of JHOM (DREAMS); the article was entitled "Dreaming in question, in color, and in tears." Author Prof. Moshe Idel is Max Cooper Prof. of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

In many cultures, dreams have been conceived of as channels of communication with other, spiritual realms, and this is the case also of Jewish mysticism. On the one hand, divine emissaries were described as invading the human consciousness during dreams in order to announce important messages; on the other, someone could induce dreams by resorting to a variety of oneirology [1] techniques. We will look here at one particular dream-inducing technique elaborated upon in Jewish mystical texts — mystical weeping: that is, the effort to acquire, as the direct result of self-induced weeping, some paranormal consciousness or vision with information therein about some secret. We find several examples in the apocalyptic literature, where praying, weeping and fasting are used to induce the Word of God in a dream.[2]

The connection between weeping and paranormal perceptions taking place in dreams is also evident in a midrashic story:[3]

One of the students of R. Simeon bar Yohai had forgotten what he learned. In tears he went to the cemetery. Because of his great weeping, he [R. Simeon] came to him in a dream and told him: 'When you wail, throw three bundles, and I shall come.' The student went to a dream interpreter and told him what had happened. The latter said to him: 'Repeat your chapter [that is, whatever you learn] three times, and it will come back to you.' The student did so, and so indeed it happened.

The correlation between weeping and visiting a grave seems to hint at a practice intended to induce a vision. This was, to be sure, part of a larger context in which graveyards were sites where one might receive a vision. Falling asleep weeping, which is mentioned here, also seems part of the sequence: visiting a cemetery, weeping, falling asleep weeping, revelatory dream.

The weeping technique for attaining "wisdom" is powerfully expounded by R. Abraham ha-Levi Berukhim, one of Isaac Luria's[4] disciples. In one of his programs, after specifying "silence" as the first condition, he names "the second condition: in all your prayers, and in every hours of study, in a place which one finds difficult, in which you cannot understand and comprehend the introductory sciences or some secret, stir yourself to bitter weeping until your eyes shed tears, and the more you can weepdo so. And increase your weeping, as the gates of tears were not closed and the supernal gates will be opened to you.[5]

For Luria and Berukhim, weeping is an aid to overcoming intellectual difficulties and receiving secrets. Akin to the story of R. Abraham Berukhim is the autobiographical confession of his friend, R. Hayyim Vital:[6]

"In 1566, on the Sabbath eve, the eight of Tevet, I said Kiddush and sat down to eat; and my eyes were shedding tears, and I was signing and grieving since... I was bound by witchcraft...and I likewise wept for [my] neglect of Torah during the last two years...and because of my worry I did not eat at all, and I lay down on my bed on my face, weeping, and I fell asleep out of much weeping, and I dreamed a wondrous dream."

We see also among the early Hasidim and in the practice of their opponents, the Mitnaggedim, weeping was employed as a component of mystical technique, and is alluded to in mystical literature and commentary as late as the second half of the 19th century.

Mystical weeping, like many other mystical techniques, assumes that the mystic can take initiative in order to establish contact with other realms, and that he can induce certain experiences by resorting to these techniques. Thus, Jewish mysticism should be described as an activistic spirituality, one that assumes that it is within the power of the mystic to ensure the emergence of articulated experiences.

[1] oneirology is the science or subject of dreams, or of their interpretation (óneiros, Greek for dream) [Back]
[2] Enoch, in II Enoch; Ezra, in IV Ezra; Baruch and Jeremiah, in the Apocalypse of Baruch. [Back]
[3] Isaac Luria (1534-1572), Kabbalist and one of the most influential figures in the history of Jewish spirituality; born in Jerusalem, brought up in Egypt, he settled in Safed where he laid the foundation for "Lurianism"; known also by the name Ari (lion) which is an acrostic of his Hebrew names. [Back]
[4] Kohelet (Eccelsiastes) Rabbah 10:10 [Back]
[5] MS Oxford 1706, fol. 494b. [Back]
[6] Sefer Ha-Hezyonot (Book of Visions), ed. A.Z. Aeshcoli (Jerusalem 1954), p. 42. [Back]  

Prof. Moshe Idel is Max Cooper Prof. of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Prof. Idel was born in Romania and has been living in Israel since 1963. He has authored: Author of Kabbalah: New Perspectives; Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic; Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical traditions; The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia.

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