These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

“I am Yours and my Dreams are Yours”

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Ben Schneider

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From: my blog

The strangest prayer in the siddur is printed with Birkat Kohanim, the section of the repetition of the amidah in which the descendants of the priestly class bless the congregation. As they say their blessing, the siddur instructs one to speedily say this prayer (Koren translation):

Cohanim Hands - Priestly Blessing

Master of the Universe, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it means. May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, that all my dreams be, for me and all Israel, for good, whether I have dreamt about myself, or about others, or others have dreamt about me. If they are good, strengthen and reinforce them, and may they be fulfilled in me and them like the dreams of the righteous Joseph. If, though, they need healing, heal them as You healed Hezekiah King of Judah from his illness, like Miriam the prophetess from her leprosy, like Na’aman from his leprosy, like the waters of Mara by Moses our teacher, and like the waters of Jericho by Elisha. And just as You turned the curses of Balaam the wicked from curse to blessing, so turn all my dreams about me and all Israel to good; protect me, be gracious to me and accept me. Amen.

This is a diaspora practice only, where Birkat Kohanim is said only on holidays and only then during Musaf. The strange part of this prayer, for me, is its focus on dreams, and more broadly, thoughts. Judaism is an action-based religion. Why does this prayer consider other people’s dreams about me a subject requiring my petition to God? Adding to its mystical element, what I’ve been taught about the placement of this prayer is that one says it quickly while the Kohanim are chanting so that one comes to its end as the congregation says “Amen” at the end of the priestly blessing. It’s as if they are saying “Amen” to this private prayer as well, and when else do people say “Amen” to a prayer they haven’t heard?

Today, as I sat in shul on Sukkot, I read this prayer before finding the page for Birkat Kohanim in Israel. Doing so, I reflected on how pleasantly different my mental state is from last year. Last year on Sukkot, when acknowledging my sexuality was still a relatively new part of my life, I read this prayer as a request about sexual orientation. I think there’s something uniquely queer about it. The idea of not being in control of one’s dreams, as a window into thoughts and desires, and regretting that, is certainly one that most LGBT people have encountered at some point in their lives. The speaker of this prayer states with humility that he can not tell if his dreams are good or if they need “healing,” and that uncertainty is a question that I too struggle with as a queer Jew. And finally, the request to “accept me” at the end of the prayer mirrors the simple request that many LGBT people are still challenged to have their families and communities fulfill.

Last year, much of my prayer, at all times, was wrapped up in questions like these. This year on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, I did still ask myself if I was being divinely judged for being gay or if I was apologizing for it, but these questions didn’t take over those days the same way they did last year. Maybe I’ve just tired of them, but I think the bigger reason is a book, a work of fiction, which convinced me that there too exists the potential for holiness within same-sex relationships. It’s called Call Me by Your Name, by Andre Aciman, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who’s asked the questions that this prayer during Birkat Kohanim raises for me.

There are plenty of reasons left in my life to say this prayer. I still have troubling and confusing dreams, and thoughts that I can not control. But I have a prayer for the future in normalizing the LGBT Jewish experience. I pray that more LGBT Jews can come to believe that their sexual orientation does not define their relationship with God, so that we can all focus on improving our actions in the world over which we do have control. Recognizing that change in myself is a major reason that I can consider Sukkot this year as זמן שמחתנו, a time of happiness.