A Letter Which Is Not Read

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

I’ve been dreaming about my mother a lot recently. A while back I wrote about how I’m not one of those people who plans to hang out with dead people in her dreams. I’ve always found that whole concept to be a bit cheesy. I stand by that, but I am also a little humbled/chastened by the last week and a half, during which I have experienced a seemingly endless supply of nightmares in which my mother dies over and over again. Variations include my mother coming back to life but someone else in my immediately family suddenly dying in a gruesome way, or my mother and me watching someone else die (once, strangely enough, it was the Crocodile Hunter).

I have tried a number of things to get the dreams to go away with varying levels of success. Drinking lots of whiskey before bed has proved risky, because I have to be able to get up pretty early in the morning for minyan. Sleeping pills freak me out. Sometimes sleeping with the TV on is a good antidote, though it doesn’t make for a very restful night.
eemasleeping.jpg
We have an article on dreams and the interpretation of dreams that just scratches the surface of the rabbinic understandings of dreams. The most famous and interesting discussion of dreams in the Talmud comes from Brakhot 55a:

R. Hisda also said: A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read. R. Hisda also said: Neither a good dream nor a bad dream is ever wholly fulfilled. R. Hisda also said: A bad dream is better than a good dream.  R. Hisda also said: The sadness caused by a bad dream is sufficient for it and the joy which a good dream gives is sufficient for it. R. Joseph said: Even for me the joy caused by a good dream nullifies it. R. Hisda also said: A bad dream is worse than being severely scolded, since it says, God does it that men should fear before Him (Ecc 3:14) and Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: This refers to a bad dream.

I love that first line, “A dream which is not interpreted is like a letter which is not read.” It reminds me, in a gentle way, of the hundreds of letters and notes my mother sent me, and how many of them I still have. When my sisters and I were babies my mom wrote us letters that she stashed in our baby books, and we all read them for the first time during the week of shiva. In mine, written to me when I was two, my mother noted that she would often wake up in the middle of the night to find that I was awake in my room, and involved in some sort of “project.” Since I still stay up until all hours of the night doing projects, this was especially moving and amusing.

That letter from my mother went unread for 22 years. And now the dreams I’m having–I’m terrified to interpret them, and I’m shaken by their presence, but in a small frightening way I don’t want them to stop. A moment with my mother, no matter how real or upsetting it is, is still a moment with someone who is gone. Part of me wants to keep the letter unread, just to have it.

The Waking by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

[The photo above is of my mother, about two years ago, with my cousin Nathaniel.]

Posted on December 12, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy