Parashat Vayetzei

Do you believe in dreams or angels?  Have you ever walked the aisles of the New Age section of the bookstore, embarrassment of being seen in front of the tarot cards or Sylvia Brown novels?

Admittedly, I spent lots of time as a teenager in the more “eccentric” parts of Barnes & Noble, contemplating dream interpretation books and stories from beyond this world.  “Does my dream mean that my crush loves me back?” “Will an angel intervene on my behalf during my AP exams?”    While my concerns have changed quite a bit since then, I still wake up from a bizarre dream and try to understand its significance.  What could my dreams be telling me?

I am not alone in my exploration of dreams and angels.  These topics fill the pages of the Hebrew Bible, especially in this week’s Torah portion, VayetzeiParashat Vayetzei begins when Jacob leaves Ber Sheva towards Haran and settles for the night in a place he later names Bethel (literally meaning, House of God).

Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.  He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it.  And Adonai was standing beside him and He said, “I am Adonai, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring…Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land…Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Adonai is present in this place, and I did not know it!”

Jacob’s dream, filled with symbolism and heavenly beings, is one that provides him clarity and purpose.  But what is he to make of God’s angels?  What does our tradition have to say about them?

Most scholars identify the term, malach, (angel) to mean “one who carries a message.”   Ancient people of the Middle East believed in angels and Jews throughout time have also recognized their significance in the world.  Midrash explains to us that God consulted with angels before creating heaven earth, and human beings.  The Talmud teaches us that angels serve as guards to humans.  Tanchuma, Mishpatim states,

If one does a mitzvah, a commandment, one is given one angel.  If one does two commandments, one is given two, and if one does all the commandments, one is given many angels.  And who are these angels?  They guard people against bad things happening…they make peace for them.

Rather than idealizing angels as winged beings with humanistic characteristics, Mideival philosopher Moses Maimonides recognized angels as forms of intelligence through which God ruled the world.  Therefore, the human mind served as a type of “angel.”  Maimonides taught that when God wants to send a message to a human being, it was sent through the person’s mind, or inner angel.

Given Maimonides’ understandings, perhaps our dreams and thoughts are divine and sent to us directly from God.  That dream you had last night may mean something important if you open up your mind and try to find God’s message within it.

What was the last dream you clearly remembered?  What can God be telling you through it?

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