Parshat Vayeshev introduces us to Joseph, our famous dreamer, whose story asks us to take careful notice of our dreams. Whenever we sleep our bodies and brains benefit from the restorative powers of rest; but Jewish tradition argues that our souls receive a tune up as well. Scattered throughout Jewish practice are hints at what our ancestors made of what happened behind their eyelids at night. Ever have a dream that you just can’t shake? Or that keeps recurring? A nightmare so terrifying you woke up in a cold sweat? So funny that you woke up laughing? A dream, reviewed in the light of day, can sometimes seem like utter nonsense – like our brains have gone rogue on us, and run off with Lewis Carroll for a trip through Wonderland- but our tradition asserts that there’s got to be more to it than that.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, an 18th century rabbi from Italy, dug into the study of what Judaism has to say about the purpose of dreaming. After all, our biblical ancestors were having wild dreams all over the Torah, so there must be something to them. This particular rabbi taught that while our brains were resting and sifting through the information of the day, our souls become sort of detached from our bodies and zip around the realms of the spirit – where they are most at home. But he doesn’t stop there. The spiritual realm, he suggests, is like a grand reunion of spiritual beings and divine messengers. Rubbing elbows with such a crowd, our souls might innocently overhear some prophetic hint, what we might call an omen. That bit of information, he says, then travels down to us through our dreams, and gets filtered through our consciousness while the brain and body rest. These messages get mixed in with the rest of the strangeness of our dreamscenes and we are left to decipher them; just as Joseph was left to decipher the dreams that would ultimately become prophetic.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman