Dreams and Prophecies - Berakhot 57
At other times, the symbolism at work in rabbinic dream interpretation is more clear. Dreaming that one is naked in Israel means one is bare of pious deeds while being naked in Babylon is a sign of being sinless. Or consider the Talmud’s interpretation of seeing King David, King Solomon, or King Ahab – David (“author” of Psalms) hopes for piety, Solomon (“author” of Proverbs) for wisdom, and Ahab (an idolatrous king who persecuted the prophet Elijah) means one should fear punishment. And the same three-part structure division holds for dreaming of certain Biblical books, or rabbinic sages, or later disciples. Some signs are generally good – like animals or fruits or colors (each with exceptions: a saddled elephant or monkey, an unripe date, or blue). And on and on until we finally return to the subject of blessings – blessings one should recite in the morning upon dreaming of particular images or texts.
The challenge for us, we must remember, is that we no longer see dreams as prophecies – according to today’s page, “sleep is one-sixtieth of death, and a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy.” For the Talmud’s rabbis, who demonstrably understood and controlled far less about life and death than we do today, many things could be a siman [sign] of what was to come. Sometimes they could well have been based on observation – for some illnesses, sneezing, sweating, sleeping or dreaming can be a good sign of imminent recovery, as the Talmud claims they are. But their justification is based on Biblical quotation, and today they are less useful to predict the future than a good diagnosis or a course of antibiotics.
Rabbi Adam Chalom