Recurring Nightmare – Parshat Vayetzei 5780

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Lately I’ve had the same recurring dream. Do you remember those nightmares about showing up to school in your underwear or missing a test? It’s pretty much like that, except now my nightmare is about shul instead of school. I’m standing on the bima, giving a sermon I feel passionately about. I’m confidently speaking from the heart, when suddenly one congregant after another stands up and starts heckling me. This continues for a while until the whole congregation is booing, and then I’m escorted off the bima. You don’t need to be Freud to understand my anxiety in this dream (which is, thankfully, just a dream).

Parshat Vayetzei, which we read this week, is the beginning of some vivid dream sequences that lead us through the next few parts of our Torah cycle. The text picks up with Jacob on his journey away from his parents’ house to meet his cousin, Lavan, and the strange dreams and encounters he has with godly creatures along the way. He ends up falling in love with Rachel, works for her hand in marriage, but is tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah. Fast forward a few more years of work, and the prize of having Rachel as his wife is realized. The text continues with the birth of Jacob’s large family and his journey away from his father-in-law Lavan to a new home. 

The dreams Jacob has on his journey are full of the emotions he’s experiencing. It’s partly the fear of being in the world alone, but also the hopeful faith that God was always there as a guiding force. While he’s asleep, Jacob’s subconscious is bringing up the memories of running from his brother and of the regret of being dishonest with his father. 

Sometimes our dreams can wake us up to our truest feelings, feelings we might be fearful to address in the waking world. Perhaps there’s a change we’re scared of making, but our dreams, which are out of our control, can present things in a new light. Jacob wakes from his dream, suddenly aware that God was with him, and that when he does the right thing he will have the community and safety he seeks. 

My own personal heckling dream recently returned the night before I was going to give two divrei Torah on topics I was passionate about. Perhaps those dreams were a manifestation of my fear of being vulnerable in front of the congregation. What if my passion wasn’t shared? What if it fell flat? But in having those dreams, I was able to better appreciate that vulnerability and realize that the things that make us less perfect also make us more human.

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