Off the Pulpit

Changed by Dreams

More than one biblical story pivots on the occurrence of a significant dream, or a vision of the night. The Talmud takes dreams seriously, although it understands their limitations: “even a dream that will be fulfilled contains some nonsense (Ber. 55a).”

Maimonides writes that the Patriarchs experiences prophesy only in dreams. This statement leads to an objection from Nachmanides, the Ramban. According to Maimonides, Jacob’s wrestling with the angel must have been a dream. If so, asks Ramban, why does Jacob limp afterward?

A later scholar, the Ritva, has a beautiful answer. Powerful dreams can touch us and change our lives. So charged a dream would have changed Jacob not only psychically, but even physically. Our nighttime visions, whatever their source, can spill over into our days. When we sleep a different dimension of the self opens, and struggles we thought we left behind are engaged anew. We can indeed be changed by our dreams.