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What if the Hebrew Bible was just a dream? What happens if not only the narrative elements, but even the development of the law is taken as a dream sequence…. An unending imaginative visitation with ideas, concepts and laws that continue to challenge us? How would that change its meaning and relevance? Would we study it differently? Let’s take our ques from the great Maimonides and the Rabbis of the Talmud….
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Guide for the Perplexed 48 http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp129.htm
Book II CHAPTER XLII
WE have already shown that the appearance or speech of an angel mentioned in Scripture took place in a vision or dream; it makes no difference whether this is expressly stated or not, as we have explained above. This is a point of considerable importance. In some cases the account begins by stating that the prophet saw an angel; in others, the account apparently introduces a human being, who ultimately is shown to be an angel; but it makes no difference, for if the fact that an angel has been heard is only mentioned at the end, you may rest satisfied that the whole account from the beginning describes a prophetic vision. In such visions, a prophet either sees God who speaks to him, as will be explained by us, or he sees an angel who speaks to him, or he hears some one speaking to him without seeing the speaker, or he sees a man who speaks to him, and learns afterwards that the speaker was an angel. In this latter kind of prophecies, the prophet relates that he saw a man who was doing or saying something, and that he learnt afterwards that it was an angel.
This important principle was adopted by one of our Sages, one of the most distinguished among them, R. Ḥiya the Great (Bereshit Rabba, xlviii 48.), in the exposition of the Scriptural passage commencing, “And the Lord appeared unto him in the plain of Mamre” (Gen. xviii.). The general statement that the Lord appeared to Abraham is followed by the description in what manner that appearance of the Lord took place; namely, Abraham saw first three men; he ran and spoke to them. R. Hiya, the author of the explanation, holds that the words of Abraham, “My Lord, if now I have found grace in thy sight, do not, I pray thee, pass from thy servant,” were spoken by him in a prophetic vision to one of the men; for he says that Abraham addressed these words to the chief of these men. Note this well, for it is one of the great mysteries [of the Law]. The same, I hold, is the case when it is said in reference to Jacob, “And a man wrestled with him” (Gen. xxxii. 25); this took place in a prophetic vision, since it is expressly stated in the end (ver. 31) that it was an angel. The circumstances are here exactly the same as those in the vision of Abraham, where the general statement, “And the Lord appeared to him,” etc., is followed by a detailed description. Similarly the account of the vision of Jacob begins, “And the angels of God met him” (Gen. xxxii. 2); then follows a detailed description how it came to pass that they met him; namely, Jacob sent messengers, and after having prepared and done certain things, “he was left alone,” etc., “and a man wrestled with him” (ibid. ver. 24). By this term “man” [one of] the angels of God is meant, mentioned in the phrase, “And angels of God met him”; the wrestling and speaking was entirely a prophetic vision. That which happened to Balaam on the way, and the speaking of the ass, took place in a prophetic vision, since further on, in the same account, an angel of God is introduced as speaking to Balaam. I also think that what Joshua perceived, when “he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold a man stood before him” (Josh. v. 13) was a prophetic vision, since it is stated afterwards (ver. 14) that it was “the prince of the host of the Lord.” But in the passages, “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal” (Judges ii. 1); “And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake these words to all Israel” (ibid. ver. 2); the “angel” is, according to the explanation of our Sages, Phineas. They say, The angel is Phineas, for, when the Divine Glory rested upon him, he was “like an angel.” We have already shown (chap. vi.) that the term “angel” is homonymous, and denotes also “prophet,” as is the case in the following passages:–“And He sent an angel, and He hath brought us up out of Egypt” (Num. xx. 16); “Then spake Haggai, the angel of the Lord, in the Lords message” (Hagg. i. 13); “But they mocked the angels of [paragraph continues] God” (2 Chron. xxxvi. 16). Comp. also the words of Daniel, “And the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation” (Dan. ix. 11). All this passed in a prophetic vision. Do not imagine that an angel is seen or his word heard otherwise than in a prophetic vision or prophetic dream, according to the principle laid down:–“I make myself known unto him in a vision, and speak unto him in a dream” (Num. xii. 6). The instances quoted may serve as an illustration of those passages which I do not mention. From the rule laid down by us that prophecy requires preparation, and from our interpretation of the homonym “angel,” you will infer that Hagar, the Egyptian woman, was not a prophetess; also Manoah and his wife were no prophets: for the speech they heard, or imagined they heard, was like the bat-kol (prophetic echo), which is so frequently mentioned by our Sages, and is something that may be experienced by men not prepared for prophecy. The homonymity of the word “angel” misleads in this matter. This is the principal method by which most of the difficult passages in the Bible can be explained. Consider the words, “And an angel of the Lord found her by the well of water” (Gen. xvi. 7), which are similar to the words referring to Joseph–“And a man found him, and behold, he was erring in the field” (ibid. xxxvii. 15). All the Midrashim assume that by man in this passage an angel is meant.
I NEED not explain what a dream is, but I will explain the meaning of the term mareh, “vision,” which occurs in the passage: “In a vision (be-mareh) do I make myself known unto him” (Num. xii. 6). The term signifies that which is also called mareh ha-nebuah, “prophetic vision,” yad ha-shem, “the hand of God,” and maḥazeh, “a vision.” It is something terrible and fearful which the prophet feels while awake, as is distinctly stated by
Daniel: “And I saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me, for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength” (Dan, x. 8). He afterwards continues, “Thus was I in deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (ibid. ver. 9). But it was in a prophetic vision that the angel spoke to him and “set him upon his knees.” Under such circumstances the senses cease to act, and the [Active Intellect] influences the rational faculties, and through them the imaginative faculties, which become perfect and active. Sometimes the prophecy begins with a prophetic vision, the prophet greatly trembles, and is much affected in consequence of the perfect action of the imaginative faculty: and after that the prophecy follows. This was the case with Abraham. The commencement of the prophecy is, “The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision” (Gen. xv. 1); after this, “a deep sleep fell upon Abraham”; and at last, “he said unto Abraham,” etc. When prophets speak of the fact that they received a prophecy, they say that they received it from an angel, or from God; but even in the latter case it was likewise received through an angel. Our Sages, therefore, explain the words, “And the Lord said unto her” that He spake through an angel. You must know that whenever Scripture relates that the Lord or an angel spoke to a person, this took place in a dream or in a prophetic vision.
Following Chapter: CHAPTER XLIII
WE have already shown in our work that the prophets sometimes prophesy in allegories; they use a term allegorically, and in the same prophecy the meaning of the allegory is given. In our dreams, we sometimes believe that we are awake, and relate a dream to another person, who explains the meaning, and all this goes on while we dream. Our Sages call this “a dream interpreted in a dream.” Babylonian Talmud, Berakot 55b …
Book I Chapter II
….every Hebrew knows that the term Elohim is a homonym, and denotes God, angels, judges, and the rulers of countries,…
אמר רב חסדא
Rab Hisda said :
כל חלום ולא טוות
[There is no reality in] any dream without a fast.
ואמר רב חסדא
Rab Hisda also said :
חלמא דלא מפשר כאגרתא דלא מקריא
An uninterpreted dream is like an unread letter.
ואמר רב חסדא
Rab Hisda also said :
לא חלמא טבא מקיים כוליה ולא חלמא בישא מקיים כוליה
Neither a good nor a bad dream is fulfilled in every detail.
ואמר רב חסדא
Rab Hisda also said :
חלמא בישא עדיף מחלמא טבא
A bad dream is preferable to a good dream.
Rab Hisda also said :
חלמא בישא עציבותיה מסתייה חלמא טבא חדויה מסתייה
When a dream is bad, the pain it causes is sufficient [to prevent its fulfilment], and when the dream is good, the joy it brings is sufficient.
אמר רב יוסף
Rab Joseph said :
חלמא טבא אפילו לדידי בדיחותיה מפכחא ליה
As for a good dream, even in my own case, its cheerfulness frustrates it [so that it is not realised].
ואמר רב חסדא
Rab Hisda also said :
חלמא בישא קשה מנגדא שנאמר (קהלת ג, יד) והאלהים עשה שייראו מלפניו ואמר רבה בר בר חנה א”ר יוחנן
A bad dream is worse than scourging ; as it is said, “God hath so made it that men should fear before Him” (Eccles. 3:14), and Rabbah b. Bar Hannah said in the name of R. Johanan :
זה חלום רע
This refers to a bad dream.
(ירמיהו כג, כח) הנביא אשר אתו חלום יספר חלום ואשר דברי אתו ידבר דברי אמת מה לתבן את הבר נאם ה’ וכי מה ענין בר ותבן אצל חלום
“The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream ; and he that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What hath the straw to do with the wheat ? saith the Lord” (Jer. 23:28). What connection has “straw and wheat” with a dream ?
אלא אמר ר’ יוחנן משום ר’ שמעון בן יוחי
But said R. Johanan in the name of R. Simeon b. Johai :
כשם שאי אפשר לבר בלא תבן כך אי אפשר לחלום בלא דברים בטלים
Just as one cannot have wheat without straw, similarly it is impossible for a dream to be without something that is vain.
אמר ר’ ברכיה
Berekiah said :
חלום אף על פי שמקצתו מתקיים כולו אינו מתקיים מנא לן מיוסף דכתיב (בראשית לז, ט) והנה השמש והירח וגו’
A dream, though it be fulfilled in part, is never completely realised. Whence is this learnt? From Joseph; for it is written, “And behold the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me” (Gen. 37:9);
One of them commenced and said :
He who has seen a dream and knows not what he has seen, let him stand before the Kohanim at the time that they spread their hands [to pronounce the priestly benediction] and utter the following :
רבש”ע אני שלך וחלומותי שלך חלום חלמתי ואיני יודע מה הוא בין שחלמתי אני לעצמי ובין שחלמו לי חבירי ובין שחלמתי על אחרים אם טובים הם חזקם ואמצם כחלומותיו של יוסף ואם צריכים רפואה רפאם כמי מרה על ידי משה רבינו וכמרים מצרעתה וכחזקיהו מחליו וכמי יריחו על ידי אלישע וכשם שהפכת קללת בלעם הרשע לברכה כן הפוך כל חלומותי עלי לטובה ומסיים בהדי כהני דעני צבורא אמן“
Lord of the universe ! I am Thine and my dreams are Thine ; a dream have I dreamed and I know not what it is. Whether I dreamed concerning myself, or my fellows dreamed concerning me, or I dreamed concerning others, if they be good dreams, strengthen and fortify them [and may they be fulfilled] like the dreams of Joseph ; but if they require to be remedied, heal them as the waters of Marah [were healed] by the hands of Moses our teacher, as Miriam [was healed] from her leprosy, as Hezekiah from his illness, and like the waters of Jericho [sweetened] by the hands of Elisha. And as Thou didst turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so do Thou turn all my dreams for me into good.” He should conclude [his prayer] simultaneously with the Kohanim, so that the Congregation responds “Amen.”
Musical selection: Neshama Carlebach singing her father’s Beshaim Hashem