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Dreams: A Glimpse into the Subconscious

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson


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Radio Show Transcript


Good evening. We’ll be doing an abbreviated show tonight...

Tonight’s show will be about dreams. It’s a topic that I always hear people talking about wherever I travel, in my classes, and with the people I meet. People dream, and as usually is the case, anything that is exotic —the unknown, the mysterious, the subconscious— always intrigues us.

However, I am reminded of the story of a fellow who came to a rabbi, a great mystic, who clearly had the power to interpret dreams, and he tried to elicit from him some type of interpretation of his unique dreams. The Rebbe said to him, “Listen, it’s hard enough for us to figure out what to do while we are awake! Let us deal with our dreams once we’ve figured out how to live our wakeful hours...”

The Rabbi didn’t want to feed into the sensationalism that is often associated with anything unknown. Dreams definitely do play an important role, not just in our lives but in Torah thought in general, particularly in the mystical dimension. You find the classic stories of dream interpretation in the Bible: Joseph is particularly known for the dream interpretation of his own dreams and then his interpretation of the dreams of the Egyptian ministers and then of Pharaoh’s. So clearly there’s much to be said about dreams from a Torah perspective, and I hope to be able to cover as much as possible in the short time we have tonight.

I don't promise any dream interpretations, but I do hope that I can shed some light on the topic based on Talmudic sources, and on mystical sources -- the Zohar
I don’t promise any dream interpretations, but I do hope that I can shed some light on the topic based on Talmudic sources, and on mystical sources, the Zohar... but let me, at the outset, set this in motion:


What is a dream? We all dream, and we have no recollection of most of our dreams. Those that we do remember are a bundle of confusion: there are things that we do understand and sometimes it’s associated with memories or experiences of that day and our lives; sometimes it’s completely random, almost ludicrous.

So the Talmud states that there are two contradictory elements in any dream. Number one is that there is no dream without nonsense. "Ein cholom bli devarim betalim" is the Hebrew expression. On the other hand it says that a dream is often a 60th of a prophecy: a form of prophecy. The real problem is this: that since it is all bundled into one snowball, it’s very difficult to distinguish between the two—which part is nonsense and which part is meaningful. So that is why we find it difficult to relate to dreams, because in essence it’s really a glimpse into the subconscious, and the subconscious mind is not just another dimension that is yet to be discovered, the subconscious mind actually works differently from our conscious mind.

Our conscious minds function in a linear fashion—cause and effect: things make sense at least in the logical world that we have created in our experiences. The subconscious mind is a completely different type of experience where contradictions are not necessarily contradictions. Paradoxes can be the norm, because realities there don’t take on the same defined shape and form as they do in our conscious world.

To use an example from quantum mechanics—those of you who are physicists listening in—it’s become pretty popular in the mainstream to know that on the quantum level of subatomic particles and microscopic world of existence, there’s the concept that though it’s been seen as bizarre and still remains bizarre (no one can comprehend it but it’s been proven), there’s a state of being which can’t even be defined as a state, it’s seen as a state of probability, a state of uncertainty, that only becomes defined once it is experienced by an observer or once it reaches the macroscopic level. So there is a state where things are, I won’t call it an amorphous state, but it definitely is one in which things are in a state of probability, not clearly defined and don’t work by the same rules as a conscious world does.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
The first book of the Five Books of Moses. It records the story of Creation and its aftermath, and chronicles the lives of the Patriarchs.
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.