DECEMBER 6, 2008

I woke up chuckling this morning, with a single image snatched from a dream: one of my aunts, a formidable rabbi’s wife, dancing – wearing an Israeli soldier’s uniform.  Huh? I’ve been dreaming a lot since coming to Jerusalem. Some of the dreams, and most often just fragments, enter my morning journal. I don’t really spend much time trying to decipher them – in various ways they affect my moods, my thoughts – and sometimes inform my decisions and actions. I’ve wanted to do more with dreams – close friends and mentors have generously shared their dream-work techniques. Somehow, it hasn’t been a priority – maybe because there’s more than enough data for reflection generated, pressing, during waking hours… But this week, reading Genesis to find a weekly verb that resonates with my here & now – I was drawn to ‘dreaming’ – an action that seems to define this week’s tale and its super-hero – Jacob – the one who listens to his dreams and, more importantly, actively manifests their interpretations into reality.

In this digital fast pace time, writing about dreams feels a little like frivolous ‘psycho-babble.’ This ‘age of reason’ has almost succeeded in downplaying all that is primitive, sacred and lacking in proven credibility. But for so many of us dreams do matter, especially when reality is harsh and life demands great creativity and resourcefulness. When Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “I have a dream,” he didn’t mean the kind of dream that comes in the night – and not a daydream, either. His dream was a vision of a possible reality, a reality demanded by conscience, no matter how much social convention opposed it. He dared to dream –  inspiring real change. In our sacred stories, we meet ancestors who also dared to imagine and to manifest their wildest dreams into an even wilder reality.

Rebecca and Isaac’s youngest son has two big dreams in this week’s epic Torah episode ‘Vayetze’ – ‘He Exits.’  Both dreams are fantastic – and the Biblical author/s spared no detail in describing them, to the delight of every psychoanalyst, poet and entrepreneur among us.  Jacob’s first dream is on his first night away from home, alone on a hill, a young runaway boy exiting onto his hero’s journey. He dreams of a ladder, and angels, and God, and the promise that he will one day return to his ancestral homeland – and own it. The second dream comes many years later and it involves copulating sheep, a great recipe for great wealth, and the command to finally return home. (More about the sheep later.)

The first dream is famous – interpreted, analyzed and understood in numerous ways, for over two thousand years, by scholars, mystics, artists and therapists. The practical bottom line of that dream is real estate – God promised his ownership over the land of Canaan.  (This is a dream that was interpreted literally and is responsible for plenty of historical and contemporary political problems – including the situation on the ground right now in Hebron – where hundreds of extremist Jewish settlers are gathered today to resist the IDF’s evacuation of ‘the House of Conflict’ – a contested Jewish stronghold in the midst of the Palestinian city.)

When Jacob woke up on that hill with that dream he was filled with awe –built an altar, and then sat down to business: making a deal with God. “If you protect me,” he says to the Almighty, “and if you bring me back home safe and sound – I’ll worship you, upgrade this altar into a full size temple, and give You 10% of my earnings” (Gen.28:21-22).   Inspired by the powerful dream, Jacob thinks strategically – he aims high, sets tangible goals for his next challenges, and makes the deal. He uses dream language to make meaning of his life, connect to the greater reality, and chart the next part of his journey.   Where I am in life now – and where many of us are now – with the economic crisis re-shaping many of our lives and choices – this level of vision, clarity and strategy is inspiring. What can we learn here about aiming high, dreaming big and working wisely and strategically, like Jacob, to benchmark our goals and success?

His second dream, two chapters later is another great role model of “dream into action”: 20 years later, already married with four wives and many children and sheep, Jacob wants to return home to Canaan. He’s been working for his father in law this whole time – it’s not working out. Jacob invites Leah and Rachel into the field, persuading them to leave their father’s house and join him on the journey to his homeland. Halfway through the speech, for emphasis, he reveals the secret of their recent riches – instructed in a dream: “Once, at the mating time of the flocks, I had a dream in which I saw that the he-goats mating with the sheep were streaked, speckled, and mottled…” (Gen. 30:9).
In the previous chapter, Jacob came up with a ‘genetic manipulation patent’ – a genius system to breed a specific and sizable flock – with distinct colorations and patterns. Did he really receive that information in a dream, or was he just using it to convince his wives? Either way, the story tells us that dreams matter and are helpful to our daily lives and important choices. (Even really weird dreams in which sheep copulate –you GOTTA hand it to Jacob’s vivid imagination and to the biblical author/s for this image from our patriarch’s unconscious. It’s hilarious.)

Like ancient texts, dreams require imaginative interpretation in order for us to receive what they disclose. And big dreams – Genesis suggests – can yield big results – if we pause to listen and translate them into inspired action.

I have a hunch that my dream of a dancing aunt in IDF uniform has something to do with my spending much more time recently with family – including three of my nephews who are now serving in the army. It’s astounding to see them grown up and in uniform. It may also be the fault of the drag show I saw a few nights ago in a Jerusalem Night Club – a benefit to the Jerusalem Open House’s free AIDS clinic.  Dancing aunts aside, I hope to make room for and invite other dreams that will inspire and guide and open a portal into great imagining clarity – and action.

Maven Torah Reading Ritual - Yom Kippur 2008
eight: speechless Vayishlach