A man came to me who had had a terrible dream. I took down a traditional prayer book and turned to a section called "The Amelioration of a Dream," a ritual that requires three good friends, declaring the dream be interpreted for the good.
The text explains that all dreams have a hint of things to come. In Judaism it is believed that sleep is a sixtieth of death and that dreaming is a sixtieth of prophecy (Babylonian Talmud,B'rachot 57b).
All dreams have a hint of things to come but can be interpreted for bad or for good, so a dream's prophecy lies in part in its interpretation. The sincere wishes of the three listeners can bring about the dream's favorable interpretation.
The dreamer in my office repeated the ancient formula three times: "I heard what you made me hear and I was frightened. "His friends read the words proscribed: "Choose life, for God has already approved your deeds. Repentance, prayer, and charity remove the evil of the decree."
It is intriguing that the language for the amelioration of a dream is the same as the prayer language we use during the season of the High Holy Days.
What is the dream we are trying to recover from every year? What is the dream we are trying to reinterpret for the good? Is it guilt in the guise of nightmare, fear in the form of night terror from which we want to be pinched into the safety of waking light?
Or is it a numbing life, a slumbering life, from which we want to rise, startled into a frenzy of living, loving, learning, being, weeping, wondering, beating our chest, the pain of existence welcome over the palsy of a life of nothingness?
A person catches a glimpse of himself in a side-view mirror and does not recognize his face. A person does not recognize her entire life. In their minds, they are living another life, of love that is never expressed. A life of daring, a life that never surfaces. Inside every person is a laughing, sprightly wish, an acrobat who swings from clouds. A dream. Inside the life is an aching, stifled dream.
A dream uninterpreted is a letter unread (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 55b). A life unconsidered is a dream unfulfilled. A dream reinterpreted is a life relived, a past revised, a letter received.
Every High Holy Days, without being conscious of it, as if in a dream, we practice the ritual of ameliorating a dream. If one studies the ritual, one realizes that it is not about erasing a dream, it is about entering it, reinterpreting it for the good. We enter our past as if entering a dream, infinitely analyzable, rich with symbols and doorways, for the sole purpose of reinterpreting, or inventing.
Once upon a time I had a dream I stood at the foot of a mountain and heard a shofar blast, a scroll was handed to me, and I opened it and read the words that would change the world forever. I've heard you've had the same dream.
In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides describes the shofar as a kind of moral alarm clock: "Wake up, wake up, you sleepy heads! Wake up from your sleep, reflect upon your actions, remember your Creator and turn back to Him in Repentance!"( Hilchot T'shuvah 3:4). On this Shabbat Shuvah, we begin, murkily, to hear the moral alarm. Soon it will startle us out of our sleep, into a new kind of dream.
Consider this: The one who dreams is also dreamt. Out of His dark, void chamber before Creation, God suddenly dreamed a dream, and the world came to be. We are God's dream come true. God doesn't sleep, as it is written, "The Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalm 121:4). But God rests. In Leviticus we read, "All tithes of the herd or flock-of all that passes under the shepherd's staff, every tenth one-shall be holy to the Eternal" (Leviticus 27:32). We are the lambs of God's counting. We are God's subconscious whose will is a surprise even to God's self. And at the end of God's dream of us, upon our death, we become a part of God's awakening.
If it is confusing, sleep on it.
Your life was dreamed up long before the world was created. It waits for you, like a love letter. Unfold it. Read it. Interpret it for good. Live each day knowing that your actions are writing a new scroll, spelled in heartbeats, lettered in breath, each of our days perfumed by our deeds and tucked into the crooks of ancient trees. We write our love letters to God, postmark every waking moment, and God's response is everywhere one can dream.
There are Torahs in the corner that need to be swept.
Sit still. Your hair is tangled with scrolls.
The sink is filled with sudsy scriptures.
You'll need extra parchment to keep out the cold.
Hold still. An alef fell into your lashes.
Torah sparks smolder as they sink in the sea.
A new quill is tested whenever I see you,
But it is Shabbat Ha a zinu whenever you leave.
I take coffee with one heaping teaspoon of prose,
And wish on shooting Torahs in turquoise skies.
Whenever I'm asked a difficult question,
New Torahs compose themselves behind my eyes.
Look over the snow-capped purple scrolls,
Billowing gray Torahs predict a spring storm.
There are verses among vegetables that need to be kept.
Be still. A wild Genesis lands on your arm.
Rabbi Zoë Klein is senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah, Los Angeles, California.