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Why Pray for Bad Dreams to Be Transformed?

Why Pray for Bad Dreams to Be Transformed?

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Dear Rabbi,

During the recent Jewish holidays, I noticed that when the priestly blessing, the birkat kohanim, is being sung, the congregation says a prayer to “transform” their bad dreams into good dreams.

I remember hearing that in Judaism dreams are meaningless, so why the prayer? Even if they do have meaning, why pray for them specifically during the holidays?

Answer:

For the most part dreams are meaningless; they are either the result of our thoughts during the day, some stressful situation we have been in, or overeating. Only those who are extremely pious, with every moment of the day spent in divine service, can be sure that even in dreams—when one does not have full control over one’s faculties—there is significance and meaning.1

It is for this reason that the best remedy for a bad dream is to totally ignore it. In fact, getting all riled up about a bad dream is sometimes exactly what our evil inclination wants: to make us depressed so that we will find it difficult to continue on with our daily routine and the good we do.2

Nevertheless, our sages in the Talmud say that one who is concerned about a dream and “unsure”3 about it should pray to transform it during the priestly blessing. In the words of the Talmud:

If one has seen a dream and does not remember what he saw, let him stand before the priests at the time when they spread out their hands, and say as follows:

“Master of the Universe, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it is. Whether I have dreamt about myself, or my companions have dreamt about me, or I have dreamt about others, if they are good dreams, confirm them and reinforce them like the dreams of Joseph, and if they require a remedy, heal them, as the waters of Marah were healed by Moses, our teacher, and as Miriam was healed of her leprosy and Hezekiah of his sickness, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. As you have changed the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so too, change all my dreams into something good for me.”

He should conclude his prayer along with the priests, so that the congregation may answer, “Amen!” If he cannot manage this, he should say:

“Mighty One on high, abiding in power, You are peace and Your name is Peace. May it be Your will to bestow peace on us.”4

The question however is: what is the connection between dreams and the priestly blessing?

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1786) explains that a kohen at the time of the priestly blessing is on the spiritual level of prophecy. It is because of this high degree of holiness that it is forbidden to gaze at their hands while they bless the congregation.

The Talmud states that “a dream is one sixtieth of prophecy,” 5 therefore, applying the concept in Jewish law that (in certain situations) foods can be nullified in a mixture when comprising less than a sixtieth of it, we pray to nullify our dreams—a sixtieth of prophesy—during the priestly blessing, which is a time when a spiritual level of complete prophesy is manifested.6

Rabbi Eliyahu Hakohen of Izmir, in his book, Midrash Talpiot, points out that this idea can be seen in the very words of the priestly blessing. For the priestly blessing is made up of sixty letters.7

See more on the topic in the Jewish Take on Dreams.

Footnotes
1.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in his Code of Jewish Law, the Shulkhan Arukh Harav, Orakh Khayim 288:7; Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, Arukh Hashulkhan, Orakh Khayim, 288:11; the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, Igrot Kodesh, vol. 7, p. 290-91.

2.

The Rebbe, ibid.

3.

There are differences of opinion (see commentaries on the Talmud cited below) whether “unsure” means that one is unsure whether the dream is a harbinger of good or bad (Rosh), or whether “unsure” simply means that one does not fully remember the dream (Maharsha). However, the Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 5:1, and the Midrash Rabah, Nosso 11:3, state that saying the prayer during the priestly blessing helps even if one has a dream which is clearly bad (in fact, the midrash seems to imply that just standing in front of the kohanim during the blessing, even without the prayer, helps).

4.

Talmud, Berakhot 55b.

5.

Talmud, Berakhot 57b.

6.

Noam Elimelekh, Parshat Terumah.

7.

Midrash Talpiot, Shaalot Kholom.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Isaac S Brooklyn November 2, 2017

Hi! I am looking for that prayer for bad dreams! I had a dream that someone close to me was getting married and her sick mother could not be there and her father lost all his money and wasn't there ether! I cant seem to find the prayer. I'd like to say it. Is it on Chabad.org? Reply

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