In Your Dreams: The Kabbalah of Inception
It turns out that my mundane reality of morning school runs and chai tea lattes may not be as real as I thought, at least according to a new hit movie.
Directed by Hollywood hotshot Christopher Nolan (of The Dark Knight fame), the movie Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and turns out to be among the rarest of things: a big-screen blockbuster with brains.
iii. Complex and visually innovative, Inception is a science fiction/ heist film that explores the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. We’ve all experienced uncanny moments of self-awareness during deep sleep – knowing we’re dreaming while we’re dreaming, trying to control the narrative. Inception depicts what you might call “lucid dreaming on steroids.”
DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a veteran “extractor” who enters the dreams of others to obtain otherwise inaccessible information. Not surprisingly, he’s handsomely rewarded for this ability, but this arduous avocation has also cost Cobb the reality of a normal existence.
In exchange for a chance to get his old life back, Cobb must now perform an “inception”: instead of extracting dreams, Cobb is assigned to implant a valuable idea into a target’s mind while he sleeps.
The act of inception is far more difficult and dangerous than extraction, but it’s also more lucrative. (Just think of how useful such a gift would be in the real world-I could finally get my children to clean up after themselves, or reprogram the barista to make my order right.)
The movie Inception works on many levels, not only as glossy entertainment but also as a philosophical puzzle. As a rabbi, I can’t help thinking of the Kabbalist teaching that while we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and ascend to their heavenly source to replenish energy.
The Kabbalistic commentary called The Zohar explains that, when we sleep, 59 out of 60 parts of our soul leave the body, leaving only 1 out of 60 to sustain us physically. In this disembodied state, the soul encounters visions usually off-limits in our everyday world.
Inception even has a character named Yusuf, a chemist who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream world. According to biblical scripture, Joseph (or Yusuf) was blessed with the ability to interpret dreams, a rare skill highly valued by the Egyptian royal court. As such, his talents granted him access to the highest echelons of society. Joseph eventually became the second most powerful man in the empire-even though he was a foreigner who’d recently spent time in jail.
If the mystics and sages are right, our life is just a dream. In an instant, we can be transported to another dimension-no special effects or fictional narcotics required. Kabbalah considers our physical world to be an illusion, a temporary residence, and not true reality. So stop existing and start dreaming!
Simcha Weinstein is an internationally known best-selling author. His first book, Up, Up and Oy Vey! received the Benjamin Franklin Award for the best book of 2007. He has appeared on CNN “Showbiz Tonight,” and NPR, and has been profiled in leading publications including The New York Times, The Miami Herald and the London Guardian. He is a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post and Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). He chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at the renowned New York art school, Pratt Institute. His latest book Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st century (Barricade Books: 2008) is on sale now.