The Kabbalah of Sleep & Dreams

Shabbat Chazon, Parshat Dvarim 5577

Matzil Ani MeChazak Mimenu

By The Holy Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch

Translated by Rabbi Shimon Markel

Edited by Rabbi Amiram Markel

The verse states,[1] “He saves the poor from one who is stronger than him etc.”  The words, “Matzil – He saves” (מציל) has the same letters as “Tzelem – the image” (צלם) referring to the “Tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d.”  To understand the significance of this, we must preface with the explanation of the verse,[2] “When Hashem returned the captivity of Tzion, we were like dreamers etc.”  That is, the exile is allegorically compared to the state of sleep. This is why the famous seventy year sleep of Choni HaMe’agel[3] hints to the Babylonian exile of seventy years.  Similarly, the current exile is allegorically compared to sleep, as it states,[4] “Awaken, why do you slumber etc,” and likewise,[5] “You have caused me dream and enlivened me.”

We must therefore understand the matter of dreams.  The sages of blessed memory stated,[6] “A man is shown in a dream only that which is suggested by the fleeting thoughts of his heart during the day… This is evidenced by the fact that a person is never shown an elephant going through the eye of a needle in his dreams.  This matter may be understood by the explanation of the verse,[7] “The soul of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of life with Hashem your G-d, and the souls of your enemies He shall shoot out, as from the hollow of a sling (Kaf HaKela).”  The concept of Kaf HaKela – the slinging of the soul, is that even after one’s death the soul is caused to be cast and drawn into the worldly matters that it was involved with while still in this world.  The reason for this is because no thought or speech that a person thinks or says in this world is lost.  Rather, the good thoughts and words that a person speaks become garments for his soul in Paradise (The garden of Eden) and the bad thoughts and words that he speaks also become garments for his soul to which he is held captive.  He is bound to them and is unable to free himself of them.  This is akin to what is written about Yehoshua Kohen Gadol[8] for not having reprimanded his sons for marrying non-Jewish women. “Yehoshua was clothed in filthy garments… take the filthy garments off of him,” and it was specifically others who had to remove the garments.

Now, we must understand the reason for this, for is it not the case that thought, speech and action are merely garments of the soul, within which the soul vests?  They are not of the essence of the soul itself.  Why then are the thoughts that a person thinks not lost once they have passed out of his mind?

The explanation of the matter is as follows.  It states in Tanya[9] that in the essence of the human soul there are twenty two letters, for “the soul is filled with letters.”[10]  These represent twenty two motions of the soul, as it states,[11] “And man became a living soul” which is translated as,[12] “A speaking soul.”  This is comparable to the story in the Talmud[13] of the two spirits who were conversing with each other, which demonstrates that there are various aspects of speech even in disembodied souls.  Nevertheless, the speech of souls is completely spiritual and is not like physical speech which becomes pronounced through the five organs of the mouth, which can be compared to the division of notes heard from a harp etc.  Now, these twenty two motions that are in the essence of the human soul are the root of the twenty two letters of thought and speech.  This is indicated by the fact that although animals also possess the five organs of the mouth associated with speech; they nevertheless are unable to speak.  We must therefore say that this ability is dependent upon the twenty two motions of the essence of the human soul, which an animal does not possess.  It is for this reason that the thought and speech that a person thinks or speaks are not lost once they have passed, for they are connected to the essence of the soul, and their root is in the essence of the soul. Therefore, just as the soul is eternal, the garments of the soul are eternal as well.

We must now understand what it says in the Zohar[14] “Thought does not do anything, but it is the voice which bursts through the air and the firmaments,” which seems to contradict what we said above that even thought is of the essence.  Rather, the explanation of the matter is that when the Zohar states that thought does not do anything, it is referring to the fact that it does not draw forth any influence into the world, and that it is speech which “bursts through the air and the firmaments.”  In truth however, thought is indeed even more essential than speech. The proof for this is from the statement of the sages of blessed memory that,[15] “The thought of sin is worse than the sin.”  This is because, as stated above, no thoughts or speech is lost, and this is what brings about Kaf HaKela – the slinging of the soul.

This explains the matter of dreams, for dreams are formed from the fleeting thoughts of one’s heart during his waking hours.  None of these thoughts or words that he speaks during the day are lost, but rather, they are what form his dreams.  Now, the reason that in truth one may dream about things that he did not think about at all is because of the changed combinations of the letters of his thoughts by the angels who are appointed over dreams.  For instance, they will take ten letters from what he thought about eating, and ten letters from what he thought about his business and ten letters from the Torah that he studied not for the sake of Heaven, and they will combine them together.  This too is a form of Kaf HaKela – the slinging of the soul, as discussed above.

Now, it is written,[16] “As the birds that are caught in the snare.”  Birds refers to the souls which descend and become ensnared in bodies, whether they are souls of the righteous (Tzaddikim), souls of intermediaries (Beinonim), or souls of the wicked (Resha’im).  For even the righteous whose entire intent is for the sake of Heaven, even in regard to worldly matters, such as eating or business; nonetheless, they too are called “caught in the snare.”  This is because their contemplation into matters of G-dliness as their souls are manifest in their bodies, cannot be compared to how it was when their souls were bound up with the source of life prior to their descent into the body.  This is all the more so when they must be involved in matters of livelihood and the like.  Even though their intentions are for the sake of Heaven, they are nevertheless “caught in the snare.”  If this is so regarding the righteous, then it certainly is the case regarding the souls of intermediaries who may become totally engrossed in worldly matters. They are most definitely “caught in the snare,” – not to mention the souls of the wicked.

However, it is also written,[17] “The snare is broken and we have escaped.”  In other words, ultimately there will be a benefit from this descent of the soul to become “caught in the snare,” so that it will be at a higher level than before its descent.  It is regarding this that it states,[18] “You have made me dream and enlivened me.”  This is because there is a reason that people spend numerous hours in a state of sleep on a daily basis.  The explanation is that through sleep and dreams there is indeed a benefit to the soul, in that the bad is separated from the good, so that the good remains without any admixture of bad in it.  This is like the consumption of food that a person eats through which his vitality and life force are strengthened.  This strengthening would not be possible if the good would not be separated from the bad and if the bad elements of the food were not excreted.  For if the bad elements of the food were not excreted, not only would a person’s vitality not be strengthened, on the contrary, it would cause actual damage to his health.  This is also analogous to the matter of sweating, which is the excretion of the blood. Were a person not to sweat it would be damaging to his health.  Now, these examples relate to external physical matters, but through them we may understand likewise regarding the inner powers of the intellect.  This is to say, in the inner powers of the intellect there are also admixtures of good and bad and through sleep the good is separated from the bad.  Were it not for sleep the good and bad would remain intermingled, thus hindering one’s intellect and impeding him from utilizing his mind to its true potential.

We may similarly apply this to understand the matter of exile which is compared to dreaming and the sleep state.  That is, the length of the exile is in order to separate the good from the bad, but beyond this, not only should the good remain independent of the bad and the bad separated from the good, but rather, ultimately the bad itself should be converted into good.  For, as explained above, the purpose and benefit of dreams is that they remove every possible element of good from the bad until all that remains is only the purely bad.  It is similarly understood in regards to the exile, that through the “birds being caught in the snare” of worldly matters, there is a clarification process wherein all the elements of the good are separated from the bad and then the purely bad that remains is expelled.  This is as it states regarding the future to come that,[19] “The Holy One, blessed is He, will slaughter the evil inclination.”

This is the meaning of the aforementioned verse,[20] “You have made me dream and enlivened me.”  The word for dreams (Chalomot) has two meanings.  The first is the literal meaning of the word. However, the second meaning is “to strengthen”.  This is to say that through the process of converting the bad into good, it actually becomes even better than the good itself.  This is like the statement,[21] “The word ‘good’ refers to the angel of life, but the words ‘very good’ refer to the angel of death.” In other words, if death and evil are converted into good this is even better than good itself.  An analogy for this is when something that is naturally bitter is fixed and prepared into a delicious confection (like chocolate). It then is even more delicious than something which is naturally sweet.

This, then, is the meaning of the verse,[22] “The snare is broken and we have escaped.”  For although it is true that the souls are ensnared by their involvement in the world and the pursuit of livelihood etc., nevertheless, when this snare is broken and the souls escape there is actually a strengthening of the vitality of the essential goodness of the souls, to a greater degree than how it was prior to the soul’s descent into the body.  It is similarly understood that a person who “dwells in tents”[23] and is not so involved in the pursuit of livelihood, does not experience the same strengthening as one who is involved in the pursuit of livelihood.  For, as known, there is an angel whose task it is to rearrange the letters of thought and speech of matters of this world so that they ascend before Hashem.  This is like the matter of Yosef, who is called Poter Chalomot – the interpreter of dreams.  The word poter – interpret (פותר), has the same letters as tofer – to weave (תופר), in that he combines and rearranges the letters in a proper sequence so that they can ascend to holiness.

This is similarly the purpose of our daily prayers.  As known, Rabbi Yehudah the Prince did not pray on a daily basis. Rather, he prayed every thirty days.[24]  This is because his soul did not have such a strong bond with his body.  With us however, our soul has a strong bond to the body, as the sages stated,[25] “Just as the soul (Neshamah) fills the body” and they specified the level of Neshamah, and not merely the Nefesh.  It is therefore necessary for us to pray on a daily basis, so that we can convert and uplift all of the thoughts and speech that were involved in matters of the world to Hashem.  Through this one increases the vitality of his Neshamah-soul to a higher state than it was previously in, even if it already was essentially good.

This is also the difference between Torah and Teshuvah-repentance.  The Torah distinguishes between the impure and the pure, between that which is kosher and that which is not, between guilty and innocent etc.  However, the impure remains impure and the Torah does not convert the impure and make it pure.  With repentance on the other hand, the bad itself becomes converted to good, so that the Nega-blemish (נגע) becomes Oneg-pleasure (ענג), or so that Pesha-sin (פשע) becomes Shefa-bounty (שפע) etc.[26]  This is like the case of Rabbi Elazar Ben Dordaya[27] or Natan of Tzotzita[28] who repented to Hashem from the depths of their hearts and converted bad to good, from bitter to sweet.

Regarding this it states,[29] “Even if you are dispersed to the ends of the heavens, from there I shall gather you.”  This refers to the gathering of the sparks of G-dly light that were scattered and fell into evil, and this is the matter of the “ingathering of the exiles” as is explained in the beginning of the Gate of Return.[30]

We must now understand the statement of the sages that,[31] “A good person is shown good dreams, while a bad person is shown bad dreams.”  The sages also stated that “King David never had a good dream in all his days, and Achitophel never had a bad dream in all his days,” which seemingly contradicts the first statement.  The explanation of this is that the first statement is similar to the good and bad of the Torah, which only can distinguish between that which is kosher and that which is not, and separate the good unto itself and the bad unto itself.  The second statement, however, that “King David never had a good dream in all his days,” but only had bad dreams, is because King David was able to clarify all the aspects of good that were in the bad itself, to the point that, literally, every aspect of the bad that could be clarified and converted to good was rectified by him.  Therefore, all that remained in his dreams (which were compared to the dross and excrement of this rectification) was the purely bad which was not able to be rectified at all.  The converse was true of Achitophel who was completely wicked, so that he retained the bad and the expelled the good in the form of his good dreams.

From all of the above we may now understand the verse,[32] “He saves the poor from one who is stronger than him etc.”  The word “He saves – Matzil” (מציל) shares the same letters as “Tzelem – the image” (צלם) of G-d, which refers to the garments of thought, speech and action.  When a person sins he causes a blemish in the image of G-d, as it states,[33] “He made man in the image of G-d etc,” and,[34] “Let us make man in our image.”  However, through repentance from the depth of the heart, the image (Tzelem) becomes the savior (Matzil), which is like the matter of Nega-blemish (נגע) becoming Oneg-pleasure (ענג) or Pesha-sin (פשע) becoming Shefa-bounty (שפע) etc.

The matter of “from one who is stronger than him” has two explanations.  The first is according to the known matter, that the root of bad is actually from a higher source than good in that it is rooted in the world of Tohu-chaos.  Through what is known as the Shvirat HaKelim – shattering of the vessels there was a descent of two hundred and eighty eight sparks which fell and became bad.  This, then, is the explanation of the verse,[35] “She rose while it was still night, and gave food (Teref-טרף) to her household.”  This refers to the ascent of the two hundred and eight eight (Rapach-רפ”ח) sparks, which takes place specifically during the night, which is the time of exile.[36] For during exile the Jewish people are caught in the bonds of the vanities of this world and the pursuit of livelihood, but ultimately they are aroused to repentance and prayer to HaShem, as it states,[37] “Who have I in the heavens but You, and besides You I desire nothing upon earth.”  This then, is why it says “from one who is stronger,” because the bad is stronger since it is rooted in the world of Tohu. This is why the “poor” needs to be saved; because he is poor in the sense that he does not have any vitality (during the time of exile) and needs to be saved by converting the Tzelem-image into a Matzil-savior, as discussed above, which has the capacity to save him from the bad that is stronger than him.  This will suffice those of understanding.

The second explanation is as explained above.  That is, through converting bad to good so that sins are converted to merits, this causes an even greater benefit in holiness and a greater strengthening of the vitality to the soul than how it was prior to its descent into this world.  This will suffice those of understanding.


[1] Psalms 35:10

[2] Psalms 126:1

[3] Talmud Bavli, Taanit 23a

[4] Psalms 44:24

[5] Isaiah 38:16

[6] Talmud Bavli, Brachot 55b

[7] Samuel I 25:29

[8] Zachariah 3:3-4

[9] Tanya, Igeret Hakodesh, epistle 5.

[10] Etz Chaim, Shaar 5, Ch. 3

[11] Genesis 2:7

[12] Targum Yerushalmi Genesis 2:7

[13] Talmud Bavli, Brachot 18b

[14] Zohar Emor 105a

[15] Talmud Bavli, Yoma 29a

[16] Ecclesiastes 9:12

[17] Psalms 124:7

[18] Isaiah 38:16

[19] Talmud Bavli, Sukkah 52a

[20] Isaiah 38:16

[21] Yalkut Shimoni, Genesis 1:31 (Remez 16)

[22] Psalms 124:7

[23] This refers to those whose primary preoccupation is the study of Torah.

[24] Talmud Bavli, Rosh HaShanah 35a

[25] Talmud Babli, Brachot 10a

[26] Sefer Yetzirah 2:4

[27] Talmud Bavli, Avoda Zara 17a

[28] Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 56b

[29] Deuteronomy 30:4

[30] Shaar HaTeshuva, Vol. 1

[31] Talmud Bavli, Brachot 55b

[32] Psalms 35:10

[33] Genesis 9:6

[34] Genesis 1:26

[35] Proverbs 31:15

[36] The word Teref-food (טרף) has a numerical value of 289 which is the same numerical value of רפ”ח-288 plus the “kolel” (1).

[37] Psalms 73:25

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