What exactly is the meaning of the hebrew letter Samech? The name of the letter ס, samech, means “support” or “trust,” referring specifically to our trust in Divine protection. In Sefer Yetzirah, samech is associated with the month of Kislev, the hush (“sense”) of dreaming, the sefirah of netzach (“victory”), and the experience of trust. Dreaming in a state of higher awareness is an enlightening experience that can help integrate the sense of trust in the deepest layers of the soul.
The holiday of Chanukah occurs in the month of Kislev, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. This is the time of the winter solstice in which we find the longest night of the year.
In the darkest of days in winter, we light the Chanukah candles in order to integrate the message of the letter samech, whose round shape represents a surrounding light of protection and support. When we meditate on being surrounded by the light of the samech we can abandon ourselves to absolute trust.
Together with the נ – nun that precedes it, ס – samech forms the Hebrew word נס – nes (“miracle”). Miracles are a genuine form of resurrection that God grants us, for having acted with the maturity necessary to emerge victoriously from our challenges.
By staying connected to our inner light, and by remaining optimistic even after repeated failures, we merit to understand, that even in darkness God is always near. Thus, we can pass from שחור – shachor (“black”), a metaphor for darkness, to שחר – shachar (“dawn”), a metaphor for light and redemption. The difference is small, as small as the leap between our feelings of desperation and of resurrection that can happen in a fraction of few seconds.
Kislev month and letter Samech
the Torah preceding Freud, teaches us to draw faith and wisdom from the realm of dreams. Not only should our conscious and waking lives be imbued with belief and trust in God but also, our faith should be reflected in our dreams. Indeed, in modern psychology as well as throughout esoteric systems of spiritual searching, we find that the study, analysis and willful search for enlightenment in the dream state is a central theme.
Kabbalah explains that while sleeping, the soul detaches itself from the body to travel through various spiritual worlds where it makes contact with various entities.
Messages from these entities are translated into images we see in dreams. The truth of these messages depends on the quality of the “encounters” made during this journey. According to the Talmud, there are different types of dreams. The more common are hirhurei ha’lev, dreams based on what we experienced during the day.
Other dreams are prophetic dreams and transmit, to a greater or lesser degree, information that can guide the dreamer. For this reason, in cases of crisis, illness, or difficulty, the sages of Judaism sometimes recite the prayer known as the she’eilat chalom, the request for an illuminating dream, before going to sleep. Psycho-synthesis and various other therapies attempting to unlock the subconscious would interpret she’eilat chalom as a request of the “higher self” to express itself through a dream.
Whether or not the dream comes from the subconscious, as psychoanalysis believes, or from God, the illuminating dream can provide healing. It is important, however to decide if the dream is a prophetic dream or a “day residual,” without ruling out the third possibility, that the dream comes from the “Other Side,” the world of impurities. How can we determine if the dream receives its information from the World of Truth or from the “Other Side”? The wise claim that prophetic dreams usually happen at dawn and their colors and the emotions they transmit are much more tangible and vivid than day residual dreams.
In addition, prophetic dreams usually repeat themselves, often several times. Another type of dream that is considered prophetic is one that is dreamt by dear friends and people who are deeply connected to us.
If we read the story of Joseph, we can clearly see that dreams become true according to the interpretation that is given them. According to the Zohar, the dreams of Pharaoh and his servants came true according to Joseph’s interpretation.
Each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night. Each dream had a meaning of its own. When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected.
So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream: “In my dream, I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and put the cup in his hand.”
“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days, Pharaoh will take account of you and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.
For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being placed in a dungeon.” When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph: “I too had a dream. On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days.
Within three days Pharaoh will cut off your head and hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat away your flesh.” Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He took account of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hung the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
This is the reason why, according to the Kabbalistic tradition, after having a disturbing dream it is important to talk about it with some very wise person (or, preferably, three Torah scholars), asking them for an “improvement of the dream” (hatavat chalom). This is a ritual in which the proper prayer is recited in order to not only “repair” the dream, but also to give it a new and positive interpretation.
My father and other wise old men of my family told me of an event that confirmed the effectiveness of hatavat chalom. My father’s grandfather, Rabbi Yuda Labi, was a great rabbi to whom many came for blessings and advice.
One day, a very distraught woman told him about a dream she had that foretold the death of her son. The rabbi reassured her that it was a “good dream.” He gave another interpretation of the dream, reversing the meaning, and the woman returned home relieved.
After a month, the same dream occurred again, and again Rabbi Yuda Labi once again interpreted it as a “good dream” and the woman returned home peacefully. The woman experienced the bad dream intermittently for two years, and Rabbi Yuda Labi, by giving it a positive interpretation, was able each time to prevent it from coming true. One day, the woman arrived to tell the rabbi the same dream again, but Rabbi Yuda was away. His substitute told the woman to fast immediately in order to prevent the horrible dream from coming true. After a few days her son died, since he was not kept alive anymore by the positive interpretations of Rabbi Yuda Labi.
The Sages of the Talmud recommend that we do not tell our dreams to others unless they are knowledgeable and benevolent people, in order to avoid negative influences. For instance, if we had a positive dream of success and happiness, it would not be wise to tell it to people who are envious or who have other negative feelings toward us, because they could “drain” it and prevent it from happening.
There is a prayer in Jewish liturgy that relates to dreams and their reparation, and which, unlike hatavat chalom, can also be pronounced without the presence of three sages:
Lord of the Universe! I am Yours and my dreams are Yours; I have dreamed a dream and I know not what it is. Whether I dreamed concerning myself, or whether my fellows dreamed concerning me, or whether I dreamed concerning others; if they be good dreams, strengthen and fortify them (and may they be fulfilled) like the dreams of Joseph; but if they require to be mended, heal them as the waters of Marah were healed by the hands of Moses our teacher, as Miriam was healed from her leprosy, as Hezekiah from his illness, and as the waters of Jericho were sweetened by the hands of Elisha. And as You turned the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, so too may You turn all my dreams for me into good.
The great importance of dreams for spiritual growth is evident in the Keriat Shema al Ha’mitah, the prayer said at night before retiring. According to many Kabbalists, this prayer is most essential because during our sleeping hours we may connect with our deep, inner self and our prophetic potential.
Since we sleep for one third of the day, we should take advantage of this time to grow spiritually and to gain the prophetic visions and knowledge that are usually inaccessible during our waking hours. According to Maimonides, prophecy is not a privilege of the great masters and initiates but rather a spiritual right for all of us. We can all access the prophetic experience if we truly desire this with a whole-hearted and pure intention. Dreaming is a privileged path to prophecy.
A verse in the “Song of Songs” clearly refers to the role of dreams on our spiritual pathway: “I sleep, but my heart is awake: Hark! My beloved is knocking, saying, ‘Open to me, my sister, my bride.’” Through our dreams, the voice of God speaks to the spark of Divinity in our souls. Upon awakening, our task is to transform the dream into an experience of spiritual awakening.
The dream is at the core of a human being’s spiritual experience. It is written in Tanya, regarding a man who has not expelled the spirit of impurity from his life, “His dreams are vanity and degradation of the spirit, because [during sleep] his soul does not ascend toward the heavens.” As it is written, “Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord? He who is of clean hands and a pure heart.”
An analysis of the content of one’s dreams is therefore suggested by Chassidic masters as a method of verifying one’s progress or regression along the spiritual path. It is written in the Talmud that anyone who does not dream for a week can be defined as an evil person. This is because anyone who does not remember his or her dreams, or represses the memory of certain dreams, refuses to receive the teachings necessary for spiritual growth.
It is true that certain dreams are particularly agonizing. Nevertheless, we must listen to their message. This is what King David teaches us when he thanks God for having advised him during the nights when he was tormented with nightmares.
According to the Talmud, a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter left unopened. In ancient times, there were many wise men in Jerusalem who dedicated themselves to interpreting dreams. Even today, some rabbis can explain the messages of dreams in such a profound, precise, and almost prophetic manner that undergoing dream analysis with them might be the fastest way of solving one’s problems. This may replace endless sessions of psychoanalysis.
We can only interpret dreams correctly if we comprehend symbols. Interpreting the messages that dreams contain requires familiarity with and mastery of Biblical symbols. The letter samech is also at the beginning of the word סימן – siman (“sign”, “symbol”). This hints to the Talmudic teaching: “Decipher dreams and symbols and you will acquire Torah.”