Long Life, Secret Knowledge and Dreams - Berakhot 55
What was Bezalel’s qualification? According to the Talmud, it was his wisdom and secret knowledge – he was able to combine the letters of creation, just as medieval and modern Jewish mystics try to use the Hebrew Aleph-Bet to unlock secrets in the tradition of kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). Most of the secret knowledge explored on today’s page, however concerns the interpretation of dreams – as Rabbi Hisda said, “a dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.” The human fascination with dreams did not skip Talmudic rabbis, though they often read them as prophetic signs of the future while we read them as insights into our past.
This crucial difference notwithstanding, we find fascinating insights: “a bad dream is worse than scourging” “there is no dream without some nonsense” “while part of a dream may be fulfilled, the whole is never fulfilled” “the one whose dream saddens him should have it interpreted before three [fellows]”. Some rabbis play both sides: Samuel called his bad dreams false and his good dreams true. Rabbi Bana’ah went to 24 dream interpreters in Jerusalem, and each gave him a different interpretation that came true. His lesson: dreams follow “the mouth” [i.e. interpretation], just as in the Joseph story: “And it happened that just as he explained it to us, so it was.” (Genesis 41:13). Rabbi Jonathan provides the most Freudian insight of all: “A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts”
The Talmud’s rabbis were not psychologists, nor were they prophets. And Freud did not begin interpreting dreams because he read page Berakhot 55. Rather, they are both part of the human fascination with dreams and secret knowledge. If we can learn one more thing about the world, or about our future, or about ourselves, who can resist?
Rabbi Adam Chalom