Kehillat Israel Rabbi Emeritus
Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D.
Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
I used to have a recurring dream when I was a child. I would find myself standing on top of the red brick fireplace incinerator that we used to have in our back yard. Angry dogs would be barking loudly and running around at the bottom of the incinerator and trying to jump up high enough to bite me. I would look down at them with fear and anxiety rising in my throat, and then suddenly I’d jump high into the air and lo and behold, I could fly.
The dogs would be frustrated, barking and yapping and snapping their angry jaws, and I would be calmly sailing away high above the back yard trees, looking down and smiling with the joy and satisfaction of knowing that I had escaped from danger and could fly anywhere in the world that I wanted. It was a fabulous dream, and I had it often.
Everybody dreams. In fact they tell us that we all dream every single night. I couldn’t prove it since I hardly ever remember my dreams anymore when I awake, but I do remember enough to know that dreams are an important part of my subconscious inner life. In fact, I often think of dreams as the spiritual work that my soul does while I am sleeping each night. It’s the deeper level of awareness in which my soul plays out scenes that bring healing from the traumas and troubles I have experienced during my waking life. The scenes themselves may be strange or bizarre or make little sense to my conscious waking mind, but on the soul level they obviously speak both to personal and eternal truths that my spirit needs to experience.
There is a fabulous passage in the Talmud where Rabbi Bana relates that there were twenty-four interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem at the time he lived there. “Once I dreamt a dream and I went around to all of them and they all gave different interpretations,” he said. “In the end all were fulfilled, thus confirming the saying, “All dreams follow the mouth.’” (Talmud Berakhot 55b).
I love this passage not only because it’s quaint, but because it reveals a fundamental truth about how we interpret and understand dreams. The meaning of a dream depends on whoever is interpreting it in the first place. In the same way the meaning of life itself or the meaning that we derive from situations and circumstances of our lives is totally dependent on us and what we decide they mean. Events don’t have inherent meaning – they receive their meaning from the human mind as it understands the event and makes sense out of it from within its own unique perspective and experience.
There is an ancient Jewish saying, “According to the interpretation is the dream,” and the same can be said about interpreting the experiences, relationships, events and circumstances of our daily lives. The power of studying Torah each week is that it allows us to bring the wisdom of thousands of years of Jewish civilization to bear on the everyday challenges of life to help us discover the meanings that will enhance our lives and add purpose and direction to them.
When Jacob awoke from the famous dream of his ladder that stretched from the earth to heaven in this week’s Torah portion, the first words out of his mouth were these: “Surely God is in this place and I didn’t realize it.” (Genesis 28:16). Every day for me is an opportunity to say those same words, to have that same sense of wonder and awe at the miracles that fill my life. Every dream is a gift. Every relationship is a blessing. Every opportunity to find meaning and purpose in my life is another chance to say, “Yes, God is surely in this place as well, and I didn’t see it.” Especially this season of Thanksgiving, may each of us find the sacred and divine in our relationships and our lives and remember to express gratitude for the everyday miracles that fill our lives.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Ph.D., is Rabbi Emeritus of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, California. He is a nationally recognized expert in the field of moral education and is the recipient of numerous community awards, including the Micah Award for founding the largest full-service homeless shelter in Los Angeles. He is also a recipient of the Unsung Hero Award from the Youth Law Center in San Francisco. Steven has contributed to a wide variety of publications as an author and composer. He has written numerous books, including Raising Children in a Contemporary World (1992); Raising Ethical Children (Prima Publishing, 1994)…