Not Your Father's Talmud

Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago explores the Talmud from a Humanistic perspective, one page a day.

Location: Highland Park, Illinois, United States

Rabbi Adam Chalom is the Rabbi of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in suburban Chicago. He is also the Assistant Dean for the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.

Monday, April 25, 2005

What Dreams May Come - Berakhot 56

Continuing the diversion from a central focus on berakhot (blessings), we find much more rabbinic dream interpretations in our current page. Amusingly, many of them are encapsulated in the story of Bar Hedaya, the dream interpreter, and the two rabbis Abaye and Rabba. Abaye would pay him one zuz but Rabba would not, and “to one who paid him he gave a favorable interpretation and to one who did not pay he gave an unfavorable interpretation” – even though they repeatedly have the same dreams! The lesson: one should always pay professionals. In many cases, they dreamed of reciting Biblical verses, thus providing an opportunity for personal interpretation: for example, when they both read “your ox will be slain,” Abaye is told his business will prosper and he will be unable to eat from joy, while Rabba’s business will be a failure. But most of their dreams concern images, thus providing general dream symbolism to later generations (though with contradictory interpretations). Some examples of the images:

- Lettuce on the mouth of a jar: business will double (Abaye) or business will be bitter (Rabba)
- A cask on a palm tree: business will flourish (Abaye) or your goods will be overabundant (Rabba)
- A cask falling into a pit: goods will be in demand (Abaye) or they will be spoiled and thrown away (Rabba)

Rabba then goes by himself and is told that dreaming his teeth falling out means his children will die, dreaming two pigeons flying means he will divorce twice, and dreaming two turnips meant he would be struck twice. When he was actually struck later that day, he stopped them from hitting him more by saying “Enough! I only saw two!” He finally pays Bar Hedaya, and receives better news: a wall falling down means wealth will arrive, his home collapsing and everyone taking a break means his teachings will spread, and more. But Rabba has his revenge for Bar Hedaya’s dire predictions – traveling together, Rabba discovers the teaching in Berakhot 55 that “dreams follow ‘the mouth’ [interpretation]”, and he curses Bar Hedaya because his interpretations must have led to the disasters. As a prisoner of the king, Bar Hedaya continues to demand his zuz before he will offer dream interpretations, and for his disobedience he is torn in half by two trees. Thus the danger of dealing harshly with “powerful” clients as well!

There are many more examples of rabbinic dream interpretation, including: seeing a well means peace, or life, or Torah; seeing a river, bird or pot may mean peace; a reed is symbolic of wisdom; an ox can be good news or bad depending on what it does; a camel may be sign of imminent death; and so on. As long as we consider dream interpretation as more artistic creativity than scientific or factual investigation about either our personal past or our future, it can be fun (and at least as interesting as more blessings).

Rabbi Adam Chalom