Torah is the Dream of Memory

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, October 25, 2019 / 26 Tishrei 5780

Porque La Música Es la Memoria De Los Sueños
Gato Barbieri

Gato Barbieri was an Argentinian Jazz musician who achieved a measure of fame in the 70’s. Some of his tunes were crossover hits that made it onto the pop charts, such as his rendition of Santana’s tune, Europa. Gato’s interpretation received tremendous airplay. But it’s not his music that’s got me thinking. It’s his writing. He once commented that “the images of dreams and the images of memory have a sound…music is the memory of dreams.”

That’s a lush, even romantic statement. It calls up this notion of how we revisit our experiences. Each time we take a trip back in time, there’s this very real possibility that the significance of what was changes for us. The pain of your first heartbreak, so obvious when you first thought back to it, softens over the years till you notice different things—maybe what that person taught you about love comes to the forefront. Music, Gato seems to intimate, portrays a heightened sense of reality in the same way that dreams can scratch at our awareness, pointing to some realization just out of reach.

Not surprisingly, there’s rich material about dreams in the Jewish tradition. The Biblical stories are well known, with Jospeh being the most famous dream interpreter. Later strata of our sacred writings also address the stuff of dreams, and present a nuanced understanding of what dreams are. One talmudic dictum (Berakhot 55b) states in the name of Rabbi Jonathan that “It is the thoughts of the heart during the day which appear to a person in a dream.” Dreams in this context are, like in Freudian thought, the material of the day reworked by the mind. Maimonides, however, held that dreams contained a measure of prophecy. Still other Sages held that dreams could protect us against negative outcomes. But any evidence that came from dreams could not be considered in legal matters. Dreams can tell us many things, but they can’t impact the outcome of a court case.

That’s why the most unexpected aspect of dreams in the tradition has to be the story of Yosef Karo. Karo is the author of the 16th century Shulkhan Arukh, the authoritative code of Jewish law. For years, a mystical maggid, or storyteller, would frequent Karo’s nights, transmitting hidden knowledge and legal rulings to him. Dreams may be illegitimate as sources of evidence in a given case, but they clearly proved valuable as a guide to new legal insights.

Although music and dreams have an important role to play, the greatest Jewish endeavor is the study of Torah. It has been undertaken by scholars, by secular thinkers, by the average synagogue-going Jew, by b’nei mitzvah students across the globe. Each time we begin a cycle of reading, new possibilities surface. We notice different aspects and new lessons surface that speak to us in the moment.

בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ. וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנַּהּ לֹא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה

The pithiest statement of this comes from Ben Bag Bag, who without a doubt, possesses a name that strikes the ear of an English speaker as peculiar. Regarding Torah study he noted. “Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

As we begin this new cycle and encounter again the great creation story in Bereshit (Genesis), these disparate musings point us to our task of returning to Torah. If we walk away this year with the same understandings of her teachings, we will have failed. Torah is the dream of memory, after all, transforming both past, present and future. It offers us the ability to go back and learn to see our lives and our duties with ever greater clarity.

Therefore, a blessing: may we each approach Torah this year with receptiveness. May we indeed turn it and turn it. May her novel insights lead us on a good path.

To a Shabbat of new beginnings,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. Can you recall a section of Torah which meant one thing to you when you were young, and another thing later in life?
  2. What was it?
  3. Do you know what led you to a new understanding?
  4. Can you use that as a mechanism to apply to your Torah studies this year?

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