This week's reading begins with the word "Re'eh," a command to "look!"

What are we to look at? G‑d says: "Look, I present before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26).

But how do we look at a blessing and a curse? Normally, we hear a blessing and a curse.

Chassidic philosophy points out repeatedly1 that the power of seeing is much greater than the power of hearing. A well known statement in Judaism is "lo domeh shome'a l'ro'eh," one who [just] hears is in not [in any way] comparable to one who sees."2

Science supports that view. I asked my ophthalmologist about the role of vision in the sensory cortex. The sensory cortex is the part of the brain that processes input from our senses (the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch – as well as a sixth "body sense," which psychologists call proprioception). My doctor told me that 95% of the sensory cortex is used to process visual input, leaving only 5% for all the other senses combined.

95% of the sensory cortex is used to process visual input, leaving only 5% for all the other senses combinedSo where else in this week's reading are we told more about looking?

In verse 13:2, G‑d advises us how to deal with a person who presents himself as a prophet. The verse uses a double language for a prophet, using "navee," the usual word for a prophet, followed by a "dreamer of dreams" (cholem chalom).3 The double language is repeated two more times, two verses later (13:4) and two more verses later (13:6), as though to insure that we not miss attending to these words.4

Why does the Torah choose to emphasize the distinction between auditory and visual, dream-based prophecy? Let us examine the Torah view of dreams.

A dream is a powerful instrument that can be a source of a blessing or its opposite. The primary Talmudic discussion of dreams occurs in a chapter appropriately titled "One Who Sees."5 The Talmud makes clear that dreams, even those of the average person, are important. "A person who has no dreams for seven days is called wicked,"6 because it means that G‑d has chosen not to communicate with him for so long. Psychological research offers an analogue to this statement; people whose dreams are interrupted or absent for a period of a week begin to show signs of mental imbalance.

According to the Talmud, dreams predict the future. Although, all dreams have meaningless elements (in the language of the Talmud, "all wheat contains some chaff"), but nonetheless "a dream has 1/60th [the potency] of [actual] prophecy."7 Dreams have multiple meanings and predictions, all of which may come true.8

What strikes me as most important about the Talmudic discussion is that we, as individuals, have an influence over our dreams and over the future. At a very simple level, we have the power to avert a negative dream prediction by engaging in a ritual called hatavat chalom, "rectifying the dream"9 and by fasting, even if that means one must fast on the Sabbath.

But on a much more astonishing level, the Talmud says that the causative effect of the dream upon the future depends on the words used to interpret it. "All dreams follow the mouth."10 If we (or a professional dream interpreter) give the dream a positive interpretation, it is likely that a positive result will occur. And the opposite is true too.

The causative effect of the dream upon the future depends on the words used to interpret it.Thus, perhaps, we can better understand the distinction between the verbally-based and visually-based prophet. Visually-based prophecy may be even more powerful than verbally-based prophecy. A "false prophet," about whom the Torah warns us, may be able to use his dream powers to effectively predict the future, even more effectively and more convincingly than a verbally-based prophet. Nonetheless, even if his predictions come true, we can accept his leadership only if what he prescribes is within the framework of existing Torah.

How can we understand this counterintuitive, astonishing viewpoint that "all dreams follow the mouth"? There are at least two levels of answer. One is that Judaism says that the words we use (even we common people) and the thoughts we engage in have a causative effect on the physical universe. The Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, put it succinctly. He begins his book, Likuttei Dibburim, with a two-word sentence: "machshavah mo'eles," thought has a causative impact on the physical world.

A second level of answer is provided by hypnotically-oriented psychotherapists. When we engage in imagination and fantasy, new neural pathways, new solutions to tasks, are created in the mind.11 This principle is currently used in a diverse range of applications, from training athletes to mobilizing the immune systems of cancer patients. A currently popular psycho-philosophy, Attraction Theory, says that if you think positive thoughts, you create a positive "energy" that draws positive events into your life. And, conversely... This theory parallels a traditional Chassidic saying, "tracht gut, vet zein gut," if you think good thoughts it will be good. It would be a reductio ad absurdum to interpret this principle as meaning that my own individual thoughts fully determine reality. There are other forces at play: material, cognitive, spiritual and Divine. A Holocaust can occur not because of our thoughts but in spite of our thoughts. Nonetheless, our thoughts are a potent force that influences the outcome.

One on the benefits of "dreaming" or fantasizing is that it stimulates and delights the largest and most creative part of our mind, the Unconscious. Once stimulated, the Unconscious will continue to engage in problem solving, without the person even being aware. Suddenly, the Unconscious pops up with an idea or solution. The analogy to physical exercise is that even after I exercise, my metabolism continues to burn calories at a higher rate, even when I am resting. So, the Torah emphasizes the issue of what we choose to see, because our visualizations powerfully determine whether we will elicit and hold on to the blessings available from G‑d or whether we elicit, G‑d forbid, the opposite.


How do we apply all of the above to the issue of marital harmony?

As a marriage therapist, I advise clients to take the time to actively engage in positive daydreams about their marriage. Certainly, it is helpful for my clients to tell me about the positive (and not only the negative) aspects of heir marriage. I think that anyone who is helping a couple should ask each spouse about the good things in the marriage, whether from the distant past, or the present.

Nonetheless, it is even more powerful for them to create visual images. Just as the Torah implies that visual prophecy is distinct from verbal prophecy, so too visual imaging, in therapy, is generally more potent than just verbal description.

If you can at least imagine or remember a positive interaction with your spouse, you can generate a longing for improvementFor clients who have a good marriage, this activity should only enhance the marriage. But what about people who are struggling in a difficult marriage?

Unfortunately, many such people have given up imagining or fantasizing what their marriage could be like if it were successful, or even remembering successful moments from the past. They avoid doing so, because doing so would add to their current pain and sense of loss. Nonetheless, in therapy I encourage them to do so, much as a physical therapist encourages a patient to move a painful, damaged limb. "What would you like your marriage to look like?" If you can at least imagine or remember a positive interaction with your spouse, you can generate a longing for improvement, a desire to create good will, and a possible plan of action that might convey a positive feeling to your spouse. Once, G‑d forbid, a couple is so swallowed up by conflict that they cannot experience mutual good will, even in fantasy, there is no energy for positive movement.

I suggest you take the time to engage in such positive "daydreams"; enjoy immersing yourself in them and watch for results. This simple act does not suddenly wash away all of the pain in the relationship, but it does "give peace a chance."

May it be that one result is, that as we fulfill G‑d's dream of our living in marital harmony, He will fulfill our dream, and bring the Redemption, where we are promised that we will see "the world filled with the knowledge of G‑d."