Dream a little dream

Jacob’s Ladder – Marc Chagall 1966

Have you ever had a dream in which you were being chased? I asked this question in our Thursday morning Tefilot, and everyone in the room, including children and adults, raised their hands. The scientific understanding of dreaming is sketchy at best – dreams really are still mostly a mystery. I’m convinced that if I have a dream about being chased, that dream is saying something along the lines of, “fear, stress, anxiety, worry.” If I have a dream in which I find myself with loved ones on a sunny beach, that dream is saying, “contentment, joy, satisfaction, fulfillment.” I wonder what Jacob’s famous dream about a ladder between heaven and earth says?

Genesis 28:12:

וַֽיַּחֲלֹ֗ם וְהִנֵּ֤ה סֻלָּם֙ מֻצָּ֣ב אַ֔רְצָה וְרֹאשׁ֖וֹ מַגִּ֣יעַ הַשָּׁמָ֑יְמָה וְהִנֵּה֙ מַלְאֲכֵ֣י אֱלֹהִ֔ים עֹלִ֥ים וְיֹרְדִ֖ים בּֽוֹ׃

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

Interestingly, Joseph, Jacob’s son, comes into great power and reknown through his ability to interpret dreams and foretell an impending famine in Egypt, so this is not the last time dreams play an important role in this family story. Jacob’s dream, however, needs little interpretation – he wakes up and immediately renames the location of dream Beit El (House of G-d), since he realizes that his dream indicates an important feature of this relatively new relationship between the humans and the divine.

His dream indicates a powerful image of connection – linking earth to heaven, and thereby indicating the connection between humans and G-d. This remains a central feature of Jewish theology – that it is possible to have a personal connection with the divine, and that it is therefore incumbent upon us to do exactly what Jacob will do next week – wrestle with this difficult notion. When Jacob becomes Israel (he who wrestled with G-d), he further develops the connection between humans and the divine, and we have all taken the name Israel as our own. We became the people who choose the most difficult path – to acknowledge the potential connection with G-d, enter that path at our own risk, and spend our entire lives wrestling with the nuanced complexity of living faithfully (with full faith) in the world.

Ask your loved ones about their dreams, and see if they are saying anything important!

Shabbat Shalom,