There are the idealistic dreams of great visionaries for a better world; and there are our national dreams of redemption...
by Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook zatza"l
In contrast to the unique level and clarity of Moses' prophecy, ordinary prophecy is bestowed through the medium of visions and dreams:
"If someone among you experiences divine prophecy, I will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream." (Numbers 12:6)
Dreams, Rav Kook wrote, serve an important function in the world. Great dreams are the very foundation of the universe. Dreams exist on many levels. There are the prescient dreams of prophets, and the conscious dreaming of poets. There are the idealistic dreams of great visionaries for a better world; and there are our national dreams of redemption — "When God will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers" (Psalms 126:1).
Of course, not every dream falls under the category of a great dream. Some dreams are inconsequential, as it says, "Dreams speak falsely" (Zechariah 10:2). What determines whether a dream is prophetic or meaningless?
True and False Dreams
True servants of God concentrate their aspirations and efforts on rectifying the entire world. When one's thoughts and actions are devoted exclusively to perfecting all of creation, then one's imagination will only be stimulated by matters that relate to the universal reality. The dreams of such individuals will naturally be of great significance. Their dreams are tied to the inner truth of reality, to its past, present, and future.
But for those people who are preoccupied with private concerns, their imaginative faculties will be limited — like their waking thoughts and actions — to personal issues. What truth could be revealed in imaginings that never succeeded in rising above the thoughts and wishes of a self-centered individual?
The Sages expressed this idea with the following allegorical imagery: prophetic dreams are brought by angels, while false dreams are brought by demons (Berachot 55b). What does this mean? Angels are constant forces in the universe, pre-arranged to perfect the world. True dreams relate to these underlying positive forces. Demons, on the other hand, are non-holy forces based on specific objectives which are inconsistent with the overall universal order. False dreams are the resultant fantasies of such private desires.
The True Reality of Dreams
What would the world be like without dreams? Life immersed solely in its material aspects is coarse and bleak. It lacks the inspiring splendor of wide horizons; like a bird with clipped wings, it is unable to transcend the bitter harshness of the current reality. The ability to free ourselves from these shackles is only through the power of dreams.
Some foolishly take pride in being 'realists.' They insist on only considering the material world in its present state — a partial and fragmented view of reality. In fact, it is our dreams that liberate us from the limitations of the current reality. It is our dreams that accurately reveal the inner truth of the universe.
As that future reality is steadily revealed, we merit an increasing clarity of vision. Our perception approaches the aspaklaria me'irah of Moses, with whom God spoke "face to face, in a vision not containing allegory, so that he could see a true picture of God" (Num. 12:8).
(Adapted from Orot HaKodesh vol. I, p. 226; Ein Eyah vol. II, p. 279)
Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook zatza"l, the celebrated first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, (1865-1935) is recognized as being among the most important Jewish thinkers of all time. His writings reflect the mystic's search for underlying unity in all aspects of life and the world, and his unique personality similarly united a rare combination of talents and gifts.
Rav Kook was a prominent rabbinical authority and active public leader, but at the same time a deeply religious mystic. He was both Talmudic scholar and poet, original thinker and saintly tzaddik.
Rabbi Chanan Morrison of Mitzpeh Yericho runs http://ravkookTorah.org, a website dedicated to presenting the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, to the English-speaking community. He is also the author of Gold from the Land of Israel (Urim Publications, 2006).