2377 Sleep is One-Sixtieth of Death



While we are awake, the soul hovers above us. When we sleep, however, an aspect of the soul travels to the higher realms. Sometimes an angel reveals future events to this traveling soul, but sometimes it does not deserve this revelation and the soul "falls into the hands of the Other Side [evil] who lies to her about the future." The unworthy person is thus shown a happy but false dream to draw him or her further from the path of truth.

Each night our souls enter a magical theater of high drama. They move through other realms of reality, constantly challenged by a variety of spiritual entities. If a soul is burdened by any clutter carried by its earthly body, it will be weighted down and vulnerable to the seductions of corrupting forces. The degree to which it gains a true or false image of other realities is dependent upon the baggage it carries. As the Zohar says, "A person's soul testifies at night about whatever he or she does in the day."

Despite the testimony of our soul, however, the judgment is always lenient. Otherwise, except for the most virtuous people, we would never get anything but false dreams. "If the soul is found deserving to continue in her present state, she is allowed to return to this world. In this judgment, good and evil actions are not weighed in the same way. No account is taken of harmful acts which a person is likely to perpetrate in the future. But with regard to good actions, not only those already performed in the past, but also those which will be performed in the future are taken into consideration."

The scales that balance our actions are therefore loaded in our favor. Everything "good" from the past, present and future is placed on one side; everything "not-good," but only from the past and present, is placed on the other side. As our capacity for doing good deeds in the future is enormous, the scales will normally weigh in our favor.

The Kabbalah suggests that dreams are not simply messages to the psyche, they are essentially prophetic. If we know how to interpret dreams, they inform us what is going to happen. Therefore, "A person should not tell his or her dream [indiscriminately] to a friend lest the listener cause a delay in its fulfillment."

 This means that we should be careful to share our dreams only with people who are objective and open. A dream is like a fragile embryo that must be handled tenderly. If we understand its potential and nurture it carefully, it can attain its fullness. The capacity for prophesy and for seeing into other realms of reality lies latent within all of us.

"When a person goes to sleep, the soul rises according to its level. The Holy One teaches the neshama with signs of future things to come in the world.... There are different grades of dreams which teach secrets. The lowest is the dream itself, next is the grade of visions, and highest is the grade of prophesy."

Rabbi Hiyah asked: "It is said that a dream uninterpreted is like a message undeciphered. Does this mean that the dream comes true without the dreamer being aware of it, or that the dream remains unfulfilled?" Rabbi Simeon answered, "The dream comes true, but without the dreamer being aware of it. For nothing happens in the world without advance notice of it being announced in heaven from where it is broadcast to the world. When there were prophets in the world it was announced through them; when there were no more prophets the sages took over. After the sages, things were revealed in dreams, and if there were no dreams, the birds in heaven would announce it."

Whether we appreciate it or not, we experience things that have already been anticipated in our dreams. This may explain some of our experiences of deja vu, our unpredictable anxieties when we feel something is about to happen, our "knowing" who is at the other end of the line when the telephone rings, our sense of destiny when we know a stranger is important in our lives, or our eerie sense of comfort in some situations and discomfort in others. We have an untold number of dreams whispering in our conscious and sub-conscious minds, messages from the unknown, secrets shared by angels.

Dreams are vehicles for altered consciousness. They are a passageway to soul realms. When we understand the language of dreams, we gain admission to an inner theater that holds the mysteries of the universe.


The Baal Shem Tov was seated at a large table, surrounded by his disciples. One of these students was Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka, who was the grandfather of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

The Baal Shem Tov talked about a great many subjects and the evening wore on. He stopped at one point, late in the evening, reflected for a while, and then said suddenly, "The time has come for me to reveal to you, my faithful students, the deep secrets of the bath of immersion: the mikveh." 

He began to tell them about the meaning of being purified in living waters and spoke of the four mystical rivers that emanate from the Garden of Eden. He discoursed on the roots of souls connected to universal oceans. As he talked, his face became illuminated until the room was filled with light. Then, in a moment of ecstasy, the master threw back his head and went into a revery, a silence that shimmered.

The disciples sat transfixed, trembling in joy and awe. They stared at their motionless master. They had seen him in altered states, but never like this. The students waited, but nothing happened, except that the Baal Shem Tov continued to glow, his face turned upward, his head slowly moving from side to side. Ten minutes passed, twenty. Some of the students closed their eyes. The evening was late. Nachman of Horodenka was so tired he put his head down on the table and fell asleep.

Nachman had a dream. He was in a city. Everyone walked in one direction. They were going towards a huge building. Nachman followed. Inside the building were throngs of people in an enormous room. All were hushed, listening to an eminent teacher speaking at the other end of the room.

The teacher was talking about the mikveh. He went on for a long time and after a while Nachman realized that these teachings were different from those of the holy Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, upon which so much mystical teaching is based. Indeed, at one point, the teacher himself said openly that he was in opposition to the Ari's teachings on this issue.

Suddenly, someone came through the door. A flutter rippled through the mass of people. A figure of exceptional magnetism passed through the crowd. The Ari himself, the distinguished Isaac Luria, had entered the room. He walked slowly to the pulpit and the crush of people following him carried Nachman to the front of the room.

At the pulpit, Nachman was overwhelmed. There he saw his teacher, the holy Baal Shem Tov, who had been the one speaking all along. Now his teacher was face-to-face with Isaac Luria, who had died almost two hundred years earlier. An unprecedented debate began. Each of the masters quoted from the Zohar. Each gave his own interpretation. Words flew like fire. They quoted Torah, Talmud, Midrash, each developing a stronger and stronger case. Finally they reached the end of their argument and the heavens were asked to decide. 

The room was frozen. Nobody moved. Then the heavens quaked and the Ari raised his hands and bowed his head. He said quietly that the decision had been made in favor of the Baal Shem Tov.

At that moment, Nachman awoke from his dream. He realized that he was sitting at a table with fellow students. The other students also were awakening and the master was coming back out of his trance. Nobody said anything as they all became alert. Then the master, the holy Baal Shem Tov, looked directly at Nachman. The first words he said were: "And it was you I chose to accompany me as my witness."


Dreams connect us with other realms, but we can have dream-like visions while fully awake. Shoshana worked part-time as a nursing instructor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. She has worked a great deal with dying patients in geriatrics and oncology. One of her patients at Hadassah was a very old man, Rabbi Avi, who was clearly in a terminal stage of his disease. His body was covered with pressure sores; his bandages needed to be redressed every few hours. He was in a room with three other very sick patients who often cried out in pain. 

Except when he was visited by students, which was quite often, this old teacher constantly read or prayed. He had a stack of books by his bedside. His students treated him like a saint and Shoshana knew he was an important teacher.

Rabbi Avi did not flinch as his dressings were changed. In fact, he kept reading. Whenever other patients clamored for help and a half-dozen nurses and doctors filled the room, he continued to read. Even in a code blue emergency, when someone died, he remained focused on his books.

Shoshana came home after work one day and related a strange incident. Rabbi Avi's health was declining, his sores were getting worse. Shoshana said to me, "He seems to be holding on beyond all normal limits. While I was working around his bed, wondering what this was all about, I silently sent him a thought message. I said to him, 'You do not have to hold on. You can let go whenever you want.'

"I have done this before with people, but this is the first time someone yelled back at me, telepathically. I was shocked. My mind filled with a strong voice that said, 'Stand back! You have no idea of what is happening here!' Just at that moment, I glanced at Rabbi Avi and he glared at me from behind his book. He rarely looks at people, so I must admit that it sent shivers down my spine." This experience deeply touched Shoshana and has affected the way she has worked with dying patients ever since.

Judaism honors life above all things sacred. Every law in the books can be broken if a life is endangered. In Judaism, we try to squeeze the last ounce out of a life, because each breath is viewed as an opportunity to raise another spark. It is never too late to redeem oneself while still alive. 

Death is viewed as both friend and enemy. It is our friend in the sense that once we are on the other side, like the sage Nachman, we have no interest in returning to this life. Life is difficult. In fact, the Talmud describes a famous debate between the house of Hillel, who defends the position that it is better to have been born than not to have lived at all, and the house of Shammai, who says it would have been better not to have been born in the first place. This debate went on for two and half years. The final vote was that it would have been better not to have been created, but now that we are here, we need to make the most of it. 

In this sense, death is our friend.

For the living, however, death represents the enemy in that it steals our free will. After death we no longer have the potential to be co-partners in the creation. Only the living can raise sparks, only the living can process with God-ing. In the death realms, we rely on the merit we acquired through life or the support of living beings who hold us in their memory and prayers, for we can no longer act on our own.

So the traditional Jewish approach is not to "go gently into that dark night." We don't give up so easily. We do everything we can to sustain life. Obviously, when life loses quality to the extent that we can no longer raise our own sparks, things are different. Then death becomes our friend once again, for life has little value without free will.

The mystical viewpoint is that thirty days before one's death a proclamation is made in heaven, and even heavenly birds announce the person's doom. During these last thirty days his or her neshama departs each night and ascends to the other world to see its place there. This is different than normal soul journeys, which are often reported back in dreams. In this instance, as the soul is now under the wings of the Angel of Death, the person does not have the same consciousness or control of the soul as previously.

In addition, it is said that one's shadow becomes more faint and not clearly outlined during the last thirty days.

The mystic understands this as a metaphor. The light that fades is not that of the sun; the sun's shadow does not disappear. Rather, the vital light that is connected with the life-source begins to diminish. In the contemporary idiom, the shadow of our vital light is called an aura, and this aura begins to subside thirty days before death. Some people can see these things.

The Zohar describes the story of Rabbi Isaac who realized that he was about to die. He went sadly to his dearest friend, Rabbi Judah, and told him that he perceived his soul was leaving each night without enlightening his dreams. He could see also that his shadow (aura) had faded. In a touching scene, Judah said that he would fulfill any request of Isaac's after his death. In return, Judah asked Isaac to reserve a place by his side in the world to come so that they would again be together. In tears, Isaac begged Judah to stay with him until death took him away.

The drama now became profound. They went together to visit Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. As they entered the room, Rabbi Simeon noticed the Angel of Death dancing in front of Rabbi Isaac. Rabbi Simeon, the greatest of mystics, stood by the door and forced the Angel of Death to leave the room. Looking at Isaac, Rabbi Simeon saw that there were only a few hours left.

Rabbi Simeon asked the doomed man, "Have you seen the image of your father today?" It is known that our relatives come to us at the time of departure from this world and they accompany the soul to the other realms.

Rabbi Isaac answered that he had not yet seen his relatives.

So Rabbi Simeon prayed aloud that the Holy One should give Rabbi Isaac a reprieve. Then Rabbi Simeon called in his own son to hold on to Rabbi Isaac, for he saw that Isaac was in great fear. The story now moves into another realm of reality.

Rabbi Isaac fell into a deep sleep in which he saw his father. He asked his father what it was like where he would be going, and his father described the chamber that had been prepared for him. Then the father said to his son, "We were on the point of departing [to bring you here] when a voice went out [in heaven] saying, 'Be proud of Rabbi Simeon for he has made a request [that Rabbi Isaac should live] and it has been granted him.'"

Although the death edict had been set for Rabbi Isaac, it was changed. Even if a person knows of his or her impending death, it is never too late for someone to intervene.