Tag Archives: Genesis

Jews and Dreams

2 Apr

Having been absent from this blog for quite a while, I’m grateful to Ira Barouch for this guest post. My getting online at the end of Passover with a post inspired by a Chanukah workshop may seem out wildly out of sync, and I do apologize to Ira for my slowness (I’m still distracted by preparing for my upcoming move).

On the other hand, the timing has continuity: Around Chanukah, as Ira notes, the Jewish cycle of reading the Torah in small sections lands on the story of Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharoah—a biblical event that facilitates the survival of Abraham’s descendents during widespread famine by bringing them to Egypt. Passover celebrates the Jews’ subsequent exodus from Egypt, the beginning of 40 years of miraculous survival in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.

Jews and Dreams

by Ira Barouch

For thousands of years the Jewish people have been fascinated by the notion of extracting valuable messages from dreams. Jewish culture has been in the forefront of the study and practice of dream interpretation, beginning with the ancient biblical prophesies of Jacob and his son Joseph in Genesis, to the “mysticism” of the medieval era’s berekhat (tractates, or sections of the Talmud), to the sexually charged instinctual wishes of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that boldly ushered in the 20th century, and continuing all the way up to the trendy contemporary “Kabbalah” practices popularized by Madonna and other celebrities.

On a Saturday in early December my wife, Helen, and I attended a Chanukah retreat in White Plains, sponsored by Westchester Jewish Community Services. In addition to workshops that practiced mindful meditation, chanting, and yoga, the program included two fascinating presentations that illuminated the long Jewish tradition of dream interpretation. As a psychoanalyst, I was intrigued.

“Pharoah’s Dream,” digital pop art giclee print by Israeli artist Mike Darnell

 

Rabbi Molly Karp, religious school principal at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, CT, led a workshop entitled “Spirit Dreams: The Joseph Cycle,” referring to the section of the Torah traditionally studied around Chanukah. Our group, which included a few other local rabbis, sat around a large table and took turns reading and discussing portions of this ancient text. The narrative follows the spiritual development of Joseph through his uncannily insightful interpretations of his own and others’ dreams. The cycle features the two universally recognized dreams that so troubled the Egyptian Pharaoh, in which he envisioned “seven fat calves followed by seven lean calves.” Joseph had gained a reputation as a keen interpreter of dreams while falsely imprisoned in an Egyptian dungeon, and when he was summoned to interpret the Pharoah’s two dreams, he immediately understood them as a divine prophecy from God and warned that seven abundant years would be followed by seven extremely lean years. Continue reading