The Dream As Personal Prophecy

The Dream As Personal Prophecy

What are dreams and where do they come from? What kinds of messages do they give us, and what areas of our lives are they concerned with? Every dream theorist seeks to formulate some general principles on the nature and purpose of dreams, and any system of dream interpretation arises within a particular culture with its own beliefs and values. Before going specifically into the Jewish view of dreams as exemplified by Almoli, let's look briefly at the ideas of the two great modern dream theorists, Freud and Jung.

For both Freud and Jung, dream theory evolved out of their practice of clinical psychiatry and the needs of their patients. Freud saw the dream as a psychological mechanism that served to keep the dreamer asleep by expressing, in disguised form, the repressed feelings and desires buried in the unconscious. Most of Freud's patients were suffering from a neurosis called hysteria, which Freud saw as resulting from the repression of some traumatic early experience, usually of a sexual nature, that was too terrible for the patient to accept consciously. The goal of treatment was to bring this repressed material to the surface. The dream, as the royal road to the unconscious, was the tool for gaining access to these buried feelings, through the technique of free association.

Jung's ideas - and his differences with Freud—were strongly influenced by his philosophical outlook. The son of a Protestant minister, Jung felt that the challenge of life was to achieve a meaningful and fulfilling existence. He regarded this task as a psychological phenomenon separate from conventional Christianity and other institutional creeds and churches. He thus saw himself as guiding his patients in areas that were formerly the domain of religion. Jung formulated his own psychological constructs, such as the complexes and archetypes, and developed concepts such as individuation, the process of attaining a wholeness and balance within the psyche through the realization of one's unique individuality and destiny.

Dreams play a central role in the process of individuation, for they are seen as the voice of the unconscious, which consists of numerous complexes and the organizing principle that Jung called the Self. Jung essentially combined religion and psychoanalysis by substituting "the unconscious" or "the Self' for what religion calls "God." The dream was elevated to a lofty position of spokesperson for this unconscious seat of wisdom.

In Almoli's view, dreams are symbolic messages from God to help individuals navigate their way through the complexities of their personal destiny. (Although we are switching back to "God" instead of "the unconscious" or "the Self," we now have an understanding of dreams similar to Jung's.) The dream is seen as part of the system of checks and balances that God introduced into His creation in order that people might lead righteous lives. Thus, a dream is either a reflection that we are on the right track and would benefit from pursuing our current direction, or it is a warning that we are missing the mark and must repent so as to avert the evil decree. This view is consistent with the traditional folk belief in dreams as omens, except that Almoli expands or elevates the idea, allowing the dream to play a part in the acquisition of knowledge. The dream is a divine gift to mankind and a blessing for those who understand its message.

It is important to distinguish between the "bad" dream that is a warning from God to change one's course and the "bad" or false dream that comes from demonic sources. Judaism posits the existence of two inclinations in the soul: the yetzer ha-tov, or good inclination, which inclines us in the direction of the righteous life, and the yetzer ha-rah, or evil inclination, which motivates us toward wickedness. A continuous conflict is assumed to exist within each person as to which inclination to follow.

The Jews have been wary of the possibility that dreams might fall into the hands of the evil inclination. A Chasidic rabbi once explained to me why he gives no value to dreams. Since the Talmud says that a dream can come from either an angel or a demon, this rabbi rationalized that he was better off ignoring all dreams, as he felt unsure of his ability to identify the source of a dream. But for Almoli, who believed that God reserved the ordinary dream to communicate His will to mankind, the demonic dream was more the exception than the rule. The rule was that dreams usually come from God and reflect His benevolent concern for human beings.