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Posts tagged ‘Exodus’

Cholom Ra*

I had a bad dream, a חלום רע — cholom ra.

Its total duration seemed to have been a week though in reality probably no more than an hour. It lingered longer, however, following me into the daytime, challenging my reality, and painting my blue sky gray.

Dreams, in Jewish tradition, oppose the modern theory that dreams have no inherent meaning on their own. Contemporary research posits that neurological structures in the brain become activated while we are asleep and assess, process, and encode the day’s activities somehow. In contrast, dreams were thought to confer the power of prophecy on the dreamer in bygone days. The Talmud states that “dreams are one-sixtieth of prophecy,” while averring that dreams contain nonsense, and interpretations are up to the interpreter.

Pharaoh’s Dream of Seven Cows” © Sue Bentley/FreeBibleImages.org, CC BY-SA 3.0

In the Torah we read of Joseph’s dreams in the house of Pharaoh and their interpretation. In the first dream, he described his brothers’ wheat sheaves bowing his own upright sheaf. Further, he dreamed the sun, moon, and eleven stars, representing his parents and brothers, bowing to him. The brothers pejoratively call him a dreamer and conspire to throw him in a pit, sell him to traveling Ishmaelites, and end with Joseph being sold to Potifar in Egypt. Joseph was imprisoned, and while there, interprets two dreams for which events passed as he said. Then the Pharaoh had the dream of the seven emaciated cows consuming the seven fat cows which none of the magicians in Egypt could explain. Pharaoh gave Joseph a chance, and his interpretation so pleased Pharaoh, that Joseph became the chief minister in Egypt. Events came to pass as Joseph foresaw (Genesis 37-41) and the Israelites flourished.

Likewise, the Book of Daniel relates Daniel’s parallel elevation in status after his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams.

Many other cultures have traditions of interpreting dreams. The Babylonians discuss dreams and perform dream rituals in The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BC). Through ancient times, escalating with Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, to the modern Dream Interpretation Dictionary online, people want to know the meaning of these nocturnal visions.

Me, too.

Image: Laurence Horton via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I love to sleep, largely I suspect, because of my dreams. They defy Hollywood‘s brilliance. My dreams are in Technicolor. Sight, sound, smell, and texture surround me. Strangely, however, I see myself from the vantage point of an observer. I am the star of my own movie.  The dreams are bigger than life and often better than life. I can fly. I have power not experienced in the real. My dreams thrill and intrigue me. Sometimes, like on that night however, they are bad.

The morning of this bad dream, I awoke with the foreboding of terrible outcome. Someone dear to me would 1) lose her life, or 2) his fortune, or 3) their mutual respect and love. I’m not going to say which one it was, but you get the idea. I stood by watching myself in my dream, helpless to change an outcome. I didn’t stay asleep to see the actual thing happen; I awoke shaking, sweaty, desiring coffee.

Lucid Dream” by Wolf94114 , used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Although I’m not a lucid dreamer, I would like to become one: confronting bogeymen, kissing handsome princes, and filling my arms with treasures. Other times I would want to be a benevolent teacher, directing others in my dreams to learn from me, instructing them in life skills that avoid evil and promulgate good. I’ve wanted this ability since childhood but don’t know how to cultivate it. One more item for the bucket list.

Ritual prayers exist to avert ill effects from bad dreams, like the paragraphs said under our breaths during the Priestly Blessing (birkat Kohanim). But mostly, we  Jews have a tradition: to learn the true meaning of dreams, we must be on a very high spiritual level. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

May we all be blessed with only beautiful dreams, and banish the bad dreams forever.

 

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Freedom from Bondage

What’s all this spring cleaning about?

Passover starts this evening at sundown. Jewish families have been preparing for this holiday for weeks, if not months. In commemoration of the unleavened dough the Israelites took out of Egypt when fleeing on a moment’s notice, we have an obligation to rid our homes of “chametz,” i.e., leavened or fermented foods that primarily derive from five species of grain. So, not only do we remove all of the bread, crackers, pasta, and dough from our homes, we clean rigorously to eliminate any lurking crumb of chametz, that is ready to pounce into our mouths. So we wipe, vacuum, wash, dust, and generally go mad, rousting chametz from our homes. I can’t prove it, but I think searching for chametz established the basis for spring cleaning.

Chametz symbolizes the opposite of humility. A person puffed up from his own grandeur cannot connect spiritually to others or his Creator. The Passover seder uses many symbols to prod us to think deeply. The ceremonial meal is built around a seder plate. Questions are encouraged, and no question is too stupid. We use symbols and explanations to craft a memorable description of what happened to our ancestors. But why all the fuss about chametz?

When the Jews left Egypt, they were just beginning their journey to worship G-d. They needed to focus solely on their objective, which was to reach Mount Sinai and accept the Torah. Any thought of themselves, any self-consciousness or self-regard, would have hampered them in their ability to achieve their goal. To receive the Torah, they needed to let go of their own egos entirely, to give themselves over completely to G-d.(1)

Matzah is flat, poor bread, consisting of nothing but flour and water. It is humble. The dough didn’t have time to rise as the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt, their houses of bondage.

Today we task ourselves with very stringent requirements to prepare ourselves spiritually for the holiday and celebrate with the seder meal. Because we are human, we tend to focus on the preparations and not on what we’re preparing for. We’re getting ready to relive the Exodus: our freedom from bondage in Egypt leading to the giving of the Torah.

It is incumbent upon us to remember that we were delivered from slavery. It is vital to recognize and praise the One Who freed us. Two books of the Bible, Exodus (Shemos) and Deuteronomy (D’varim), detail the deliverance of the Israelites. Though this historical event happened to our forefathers, we still recount the story and teach it to our children year by year at the seder. How do I know it’s true? I heard it from my grandfather who heard it from his grandfather, and so on, and so on.

I could make myself crazy with cleaning. The drapes–no chametz there–the window screens, the bathtub. I could run around like a nut, Formula 409™ spray bottle in one hand and feather duster in the other, to clean the house. Or, I can rid my home of chametz from the usual places where we eat or trail crumbs. Since I don’t have small children broadcasting Cheerios all around, I can forget about the area under the radiator. I don’t have to dust the tops of the 6-foot tall bookcases. It’s all a matter of perspective. Spring cleaning or Passover preparation?

The cleaning can be a type of bondage in itself if we don’t see the connection to our freedom. For it is not spring cleaning that we should be doing. Certainly, we should be searching for the chametz in our homes, but it is equally important to rid ourselves of the “chametz” in our hearts and deflate our egos so that we can truly feel as though each of us, individually, had been taken out of Egypt him- or herself.

Tonight I shall raise my four cups of wine in praise, reliving how we fled from Egypt and were saved by the Almighty. I am free from slavery… and free from the bondage of spring cleaning!

Have a happy, kosher Passover!

 

 

 

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(1.) “Puffed Up.” Chabad of Central NJ, Accessed April 3, 2015.

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