Torah Fax

Friday, December 5, 2003 - 10 Kislev, 5764

Torah Reading:  Vayetze (Genesis 28:10 - 32:3)
Candle Lighting Time: 4:10 PM
Shabbat Ends: 5:14 PM     

Wake Up Call

Dreams, their meanings and interpretations have intrigued the human mind for millennia. Since ancient times people have wondered what significance dreams have. Are they prescient or merely products of our most common thoughts? Do they reflect our subconscious aspirations or are dreams the product of chemicals in the brain gone awry?

Beginning with this week's Parshah, and continuing throughout the rest of the Book of Genesis, dreams play a very important part in the unfolding of events. Throughout the book, the dreams discussed have a definitely prophetic facet.

Our Parshah relates the famous story of Jacob's Ladder. In his dream, Jacob sees a ladder standing on the ground with its head reaching the heavens. On the ladder, he sees angels ascending and descending. Jacob awakens in a troubled and frustrated state of mind and exclaims, "Behold, G‑d is in this place and I didn't know it!" Rashi explains that Jacob realized that the ground he slept on was to be the future site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and it was improper to sleep there.

One can ask: if Jacob was so upset with having slept in such a holy place, why did G‑d have him sleep there? Conversely, since the main form of prophecy between G‑d and man, (with the exception of Moses) is through dreams, why did it bother Jacob that he slept on the Temple mount - didn't he realize G‑d wanted him to sleep for the lofty purpose of receiving prophecy?

We must first explain why G‑d chooses the forum of dreams to converse with humans. In spiritual terms, sleep is a release. It is a time for the soul to throw off the shackles of the physical body and become more receptive to sublime ideas and goals - goals that the soul would never consider while being constrained within the body during waking hours. Similarly, in relation to prophecy, the less the soul is encumbered by the body, the more it will be able to relate to the heavenly message being given to it. Indeed, it is taught that were G‑d to enter directly into one's conscious mind and converse with him, that person would be overwhelmed. That is why all prophecy (again, with the exception of Moses) is received while the prophet is asleep, in a dream.

Our sages say that a person who goes seven days without dreaming is considered evil. One possible explanation for this enigmatic statement is that a person who sleeps through life without "dreaming," meaning without reaching beyond the status quo, without striving to break the limitations formed by habit, will stagnate. Stagnation, in turn, can lead to evil. When we don't grow, we fall.

We now see why G‑d wanted Jacob to sleep - specifically on that most holy of spots. G‑d wanted to take Jacob out of his (relatively) mundane life on earth and elevate him to the heavens. On that higher plane of existence, G‑d could give him prophecy.

This, however, only serves to reinforce our second question - why was Jacob upset with the fact that he slept? Why did he seem to imply that the ideal would have been to be awake - still shackled apparently to the narrow straits of the physical world?

The answer lies in the fact that a dream, no matter how holy and prophetic, is still imperfect. If a prophet needs to leave (to a certain extent) this world in order to commune with G‑d, it shows that tension exists between the world of the spiritual and the world in which we live. To get around the dichotomy that separates heaven and earth, G‑d created the dream, a place where reality is obscured. A dream thus makes room for the ideals of the future by concealing the harshness of today.

Jacob wanted the revelation from G‑d to be direct; he didn't want to use the medium of the dream. He hoped that the world, instead of obstructing holiness, would be a window to it. During Jacob's time, however, the world had not yet been elevated to that level.

King David compares exile to a dream state. No matter how sweet our dreams may be, they do not reflect the ultimate truth. A dream - even that of a prophet - tells us that there are inconsistencies, separate realities that have to be bridged. Our soulful prayers for Moshiach are requests that now, after so many years of purifying the world with Torah and Mitzvos, G‑d should no longer be concealed from us. Our physical surroundings should no longer be a contradiction to G‑dliness - but, to the contrary, they should be vehicles to help us comprehend G‑d. When we say we are ready for Moshiach we are saying we are ready to communicate with G‑d - fully awake.

Moshiach Matters

Chassidim once asked the Alter Rebbe why Moshiach has not yet arrived. He answered that revealing the wellsprings of Chassidic thought to the masses pervades the world with the “Spirit of Moshiach.” The Chassidim, however were not satisfied; they demanded, “ We need the Redemption in its most literal sense - it cannot be replaced by any spiritual revelation, as lofty as it might be.”
(The Rebbe, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 1989)

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