In the book of Genesis, the Torah recounts many different instances of dreams, with this week’s portion’s maybe being the most famous — the dreams of Pharaoh. And as we know, Josef was successful in offering an explanation to Pharaoh’s dreams, and Pharaoh thus made him a viceroy over Egypt.
A woman once approached me with a question: She’d had a dream the night before in which her late father appeared to her. He was trying to convey a certain message, but she couldn’t quite get it. It all appeared so vivid and real, and she asked, “What does this all mean? Should I be worried?”
I explained to her that dreams are a display of what our mind sees when we don’t control it. They can be caused by many different factors. How we should react to a dream will be determined by the type of dream we experience.
Some dreams are the result of external stimuli (if you sleep with a fan blowing on your face, you may dream of flying a helicopter) or biological causes (if you go to bed thirsty, you may dream of yourself hiking through a parched desert searching for water). These dreams are not terribly significant. The message may simply be to take a drink of water or move the fan away from your head.
Other dreams are the continuation of the thoughts of the day (a problem we ponder during the day can sometimes be solved in a dream at night) or an expression of unwanted thoughts — issues that are bothering us and we are trying not to think about pop up in our dreams (we often dream of our darkest secrets being revealed, or our deepest phobias being faced). These dreams are a window into our subconscious, a peek into the thoughts with which our mind is occupied when it’s allowed to run loose. They shouldn’t be seen as portents of what lies in the future, but rather exposés of what lurks in our mind.
But then there is another type of dream, a dream that seems to border on the prophetic. Unlike the confused and nonsensical dreams we typically see, these are characterized by the vividness this woman described in her dream of her father. While most dreams are better ignored, these cannot be dismissed as ramblings of the idle mind; they are too powerful, too awesome to just forget.
The Kabbalists explain that while we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and ascend to their heavenly source to replenish their energy. While a residue of the soul remains with the body to keep it alive, the main portion of the soul travels to higher places. In this disembodied state, the soul is free to experience visions and encounters that are usually off-limits to beings of this world. This includes the possibility of meeting other disembodied souls — particularly the souls of loved ones who have passed away. It is their opportunity to convey a message to those they have left behind.
It is possible that her dream comes under this last category. How she should respond to it depends on the mood of the dream. Did her father seem disturbed or troubled in any way? Did she wake up feeling uncomfortable or sad? Then perhaps he needs something from her. Was he mourned appropriately? Have memorial prayers (Kaddish and Yizkor) been said for him? Is his grave attended to, and the anniversary of his passing (yahrzeit) observed? If not, he may be coming to her, his daughter, to ask her to rectify these things, to ensure that his memory is honored and his soul given the assistance it needs to find rest.
On the other hand, his demeanor in the dream may have been one of peace and contentment. Did she wake up feeling comfort and warmth? If so, then he is just paying her a visit. He came to say hello, to express his love and support for her, and to remind her that he is there for her, proud of her and will always be her father.
There is no cause for worry. Her father has given her either a mission or a gift. JN
Rabbi Shimi Ash is the co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Gilbert.