The Need for Sleep & Dreams

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

“Dreams are the guardians of sleep and not its disturbers” (“Interpretations of Dreams,” Sigmund Freud, 1900). “Dreams are wish-fulfillments” (Ibid.)

God created our dream life; a creation like all others. The Menorah’s 3 designs—spheres, flowers and cups—indicate that wisdom is derived from God’s design of 1) matter—spheres, matter’s 2) form—flowers and its 3) function—cups respectively (see This means that all creations (substance), their design (form) and their natures (function) intend to offer man a glimpse int God’s wisdom. For example, we derive wisdom from the tree’s material, its branch design and its seasonal changes. 

Dreams have no substance, but contain much wisdom in their design and function. Through their wish fulfillment, man continues to sleep; the dream is satisfying so man remains asleep and continues dreaming. Man benefits not only physically from rest, but frustrations and unfulfilled wishes find fulfillment in dreams. Apparently, God wishes that man is not constantly frustrated, but has some release and expression of suppressed or frustrated hopes. Talmud Brachos (chap. 9) states that if one does not dream for 7 days, he is considered a wicked person. The meaning is that as one is living out all his fantasies while awake, there is no conflict or frustrated desires for dreams to resolve. Hence, one who does not dream, is fulfilling his instinctual drives while awake, is in violation of halacha, and is termed a wicked person. It is only the person who is correctly controlling his instincts (his yetzer hara) who will dream. Since he is frustrating his desires while awake, as he should, dreams function for him as a form of release. This release functions to alleviate desires while keeping the person asleep so he may gain rest. Many times, if one is thirsty, he will dream of drinking, so as not to awake. If however the thirst is too strong, he will wake up, because the dream cannot mimic reality 100%. If one’s boss was overbearing, his control of verbal defense in that confrontation will find expression in sleep, in the form of yelling at his boss.

But on a metaphysical plane, sleep is the removal of sensory perception. The mind is not distracted and man can focus on thought. Sleep becomes the perfect state for a prophet to receive God’s communications. Except Moses, all prophets received God’s communications in dreams or visions: 

Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream” (Num. 12:6)

Sleep was created for this reason too: that God can communicate with His prophets. While awake, the prophet is distracted by his need to stand, walk, sit, eat, converse, work, and other activities requiring focus on the senses. These distractions inhibit man from the full attention required to perceive and grasp prophecy. Maimonides writes, “In a prophetic vision the senses cease to act, and the [Active Intellect] influences the rational faculties, and through them, the imaginative faculties, which become perfect and active” (Guide, book II, chap. xli). And as divine communication is of a metaphysical nature, one must be operating on this plane to perceive prophecy. That plane is when one is unconscious and partaking of thought alone. That is, one must be existing solely in the medium of prophecy—the world of the soulto receive prophecy. 

Sleep and dreams, then, serve to provide physical rest, psychological equilibrium, and as the medium to receive prophecy.