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Reawaken the Dead in Dreams

Despite a bat mitzvah, a Judaic Studies minor in college, and time living in Israel and speaking Hebrew — and despite the fact that each week laypeople are called upon to offer a “dvar Torah” (a talk on the weekly portion of Torah read in synagogue), I still don’t feel qualified to write any kind of exegesis on Jewish text. 

Yet, here I am, asking you to join me on a brief journey as I reflect on a line in the central prayer of Jewish daily practice, the Amidah, typically recited standing, and therefore also referred to in English as “the standing prayer.”

For most of my life, I have not committed to or performed daily prayers. However, for the past few months, I’ve been saying this prayer, the Amidah, on a daily basis, at least once a day. (Strictly observant Jews say this prayer three times daily.)

This ritual has allowed me to get to know the Amidah a little better, and it’s stimulated some thoughts and feelings about the content of the prayer, the movements (there’s bowing involved), and the intent.

The practice also has resulted in some experiences of meta awareness: noticing how my mind wanders, or stays on track; noticing how many voices I actually have in my head at any given time; or noticing which Hebrew words I understand (and mean) in the prayer when I recite it and which words I don’t.

There’s one phrase, in particular, repeated a few times in the prayer, that’s caught my attention as it relates to dreams and dreamwork:

mechayeh hametim

Blessed are you, who reawakens the dead.

The translation sometimes reads “resurrects the dead,” and the word mechayeh shares a root with the Hebrew word “life.” (As in L’chayim!) The phrase has been rewritten in some modern prayerbooks  to be more metaphorical than literal. Either way, what we are doing in this part of the prayer is giving thanks to the Divine for giving life to that which was considered dead.

In Kabbalah, there is a theory that we can read and understand this and any Jewish text on four different levels — literally (simply), “between the lines,” interpretively, and esoterically. 

As I’ve prayed this prayer the past few months, I’ve considered all four ways of interpreting “reawakening the dead,” as it is written. But this morning, as I was laying in bed, simmering in a leftover juicy feeling from a dream, my thoughts went again to these words, and how in a way dreams do reflect proof that the dead may be awakened.

Certainly, our interactions with dead relatives, friends, and acquaintances in dreams indicate this is indeed possible. Those dream interactions may not be as frequent as they were when the dead were present in waking reality, and we may not summon them as easily as we once may have, but they occur, and they occur quite often for many of us.

As we work our dreams, these interactions with the dead may happen “more often,” simply because we are recalling more dreams. Further, through dreamwork, we get better at being mentally or emotionally present for these encounters, offering us the chance to extend the experience, if so desired, or to deepen it. I’ve experienced for myself and witnessed others healing relationships with loved ones, as well as getting help and strength from them after they have passed, in and as a result of dreams.

But another way to explore the truth of this phrase as it relates to dreams is to expand the phrase out: reawaken the dead … what?

Not just the dead people, but the dead in each of us.

The dead sensations due to physical pain or numbness. The dead energy due to illness, stress, or exhaustion. The dead lifeforce due to grief, loss, hopelessness, or rejection. 

The dead feelings.

Feelings we once experienced, but now no longer do.

By going to sleep each night, surrendering to that unknown, and by inviting in dreams, we allow for the Divine presence to reawaken our dead feelings; feelings we don’t ever feel anymore in waking life and may never feel again in waking life, due to all sorts of circumstances, both in and out of our control.

Falling in love. Starting a new job. Learning a new sport or skill. Visiting an exotic city for the first time. Feeling included in a group. Feeling welcomed into a family. Receiving praise or acknowledgment for a job well-done. Making a new discovery. Getting turned on. Getting hit on. Being held while in pain. Being cared for while sick. Feeling listened to, seen, and known. Being told, “I love you.”

I invite you to think back to a recent dream in which you woke up in a feeling state that was unfamiliar to you; perhaps because you’ve never felt that way or haven’t felt that way in a long, long time.

Dreams have the power to do this — to reawaken dead feelings. It’s awe-inspiring when you really sit with the knowing and understanding that this is true.

Our very human instinct to protect ourselves and manage our feelings may quickly add a “but” statement following such an awe-inspiring realization.

“…but it’s so fleeting.”

“…but it hardly ever happens.”

And the most untrue of all, “…but it’s not real.”

It’s real. Feelings are as real as real gets.

I ask you (and again I invite you to sit with this question before answering): is a waking life dead-to-feeling experience more real than an alive-to-feeling dream experience? Simply put, would you rather be a zombie (walking dead), or someone who allows for the possibility for altered states of consciousness to be considered “real?”

I say this often, and I’ll say it again here, my experience with dreamwork has shown me that the more we ascribe “realness” to our dream feelings, the more we start to have similarly enlivened feelings in waking life. 

This doesn’t mean we need to interpret our dream experiences literally. Remember the above-mentioned four ways of reading Jewish texts? We can apply this same methodology to dream content, and still walk away with a determination that the feeling was real, and benefit from such a designation.

One example of this is when we dream of a romantic interaction with someone who is not our current partner. We don’t have to read the dream as a waking life desire for that person, and yet we can still be accepting of whatever feeling the dream encounter awakened in us. (ie. desire, attraction, self-worth.)

Another example of this is when we adults dream of being a teenager again. Surely, linear time will not allow us, in waking life, to return to the hopeful expectancy we once associated with the first day of school or overnight camp, but dream time will allow us. In fact, dreams often invite us to feel feelings we associate with youth, and therefore label as “gone.”

Or what about that dream of the first day on campus or at a new job? We may use the feelings of such a dream to infuse our day with the novelty and excitement we awaken with after such a dream. We can infuse that inspiration into our work, or we can arrive at our work with beginner’s mind or eyes.

We can start the day out fresh. Reborn, so to speak.

If you are so lucky as to experience the reawakening of the dead — whether it’s a visitation in a dream from a loved one or the experience of feeling a feeling you deemed dead in you — perhaps say a quiet prayer of gratitude (in whatever way feels comfortable and right for you) for the opportunity dreams give us to feel the dead feelings.

Blessed are you, who gives life to the dead, who reawakens that which we thought was gone forever. Thank you for my dreams and my dream feelings, for they truly restore lifeforce to me.

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