In Your Dreams: The Kabbalah of Inception
Directed by Hollywood hotshot Christopher Nolan (of The Dark Knight fame), the movie Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and turns out to be that rarest of things: a big screen blockbuster with brains.
This complex, visually innovative science fiction/ heist film explores the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. We’ve probably all experienced uncanny moments of self-awareness during REM sleep – knowing that we’re dreaming while we’re dreaming, and maybe even 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 trappings 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 also more lucrative.
(And 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, and maybe even reprogram the barista to get my order right.)
The movie Inception “works” on many levels, as a philosophical puzzle and as sheer glossy entertainment. As a rabbi, I couldn’t help thinking of the Kabbalist teaching that while we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and ascend to their heavenly source in order to replenish energy.
The Kabbalistic commentary called The Zohar explains that when we sleep 59 out of 60 parts of our soul have now left the body, leaving only that 1/60 to sustain us physically. In this disembodied state, the soul encounters visions usually off limits to within our everyday world.
I also noticed that the movie Inception even has a character named Yusuf, a chemist who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream world.
According to the biblical story, Joseph (or Yusuf) was blessed with the ability to interpret dreams, a rare skill that was highly valued by the Egyptian royal court. As such, his talents granted Joseph access to the highest echelons of society. He 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 an illusion, a temporary residence, and not true reality. So stop existing and start dreaming!
Simcha Weinstein is an internationally known, best-selling author. 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 The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), and other publications. 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 is out now.