Monster Dreams

Monster Dreams

"Mommy, Mommy!" Sobbing loudly, Naomi ran into my bedroom in the middle of the night, for the fourth time that week. A recurring nightmare kept waking her from her sleep.

"Was it the same dream?" I inquired, knowing what her answer would be, as I rubbed the remnants of sleep from my weary eyes.

Her nod and the terrified expression over her features told me more than any words could express. I had heard all the details of the dream, retold several times already. It was a typical child's nightmare, almost identical at each occasion. A bad monster of a man, masked entirely in black, entered our house, walked into her bedroom and asked her to come with him. When she refused, he began chasing after her. With her heart thumping wildly, she ran faster and faster until she stumbled and fell. He approached her and reached out to grab her, just as she suddenly awakened, screaming frantically.

For the next few days, my husband, Isser, and I had tried to reason with our then six-year old daughter about her dreams. We tried everything. Isser quoted the words of the Sages proving that dreams are meaningless. He told her how sometimes we notice images or events during the day and the mind mixes them together to conjure nightmares that make no sense when we are asleep. He explained how dreams really have no power over us and are nothing to fear.

On and on we both droned, but the disbelieving look in Naomi's frightened green eyes attested that we weren't quite reaching her.

Next, we suggested that she say extra parts of the prayers, with especial care, before going to bed. But in truth, Naomi, a serious and sensitive child by nature, always took her prayers seriously and, almost always read each word carefully while pointing into the book.

Before bedtime, we also tried showing Naomi how the front doors of our home were locked and how the windows of her bedroom, high up on the second floor, were impenetrable. She nodded, eyes staring widely, but didn't really seem convinced with the logic that a "monster man" would need to enter through such means.

Finally, in desperation, I suggested that Naomi discuss this problem with my father. "Perhaps Sabba (Grandfather) will have an idea what to do," I said, hopefully.

Though a busy Rabbi with the communal burdens of the entire city on his shoulders, my father, Rabbi Dovid Schochet, patiently lifted Naomi onto his lap and gave her his full attention, as though her problem were his most pressing, indeed his only one.

"And tell me what the bad man looked like," he prodded.

Naomi described the grotesque features and the menacing expression. My father questioned her further and attentively listened to her elaborate on all the specific details.

Finally, he looked at her very seriously. They both sat in pensive silence for several moments before he continued, "Naomi, do you want me to explain your dream?"

She nodded affirmatively.

"The bad man," my father began, "is the yetzer hara, the evil inclination that we all have inside ourselves. He is very bad and ugly and tries to tempt us to follow his evil ways. That's why he asked you to follow him. But you were brave and strong; you refused. So he tries harder, and chases after you. Sometimes he even makes you stumble and fail, or do something wrong, like not acting nicely to your siblings or friends, or not following your parents or teacher's instructions." He paused for a moment before continuing, "What do you think you can learn from your dream?"

Naomi's voice faltered for a moment before she confidently replied, "That I must be very strong and determined not to let his bad hands grab a hold of me or convince me to do something wrong."

My father then asked Naomi to suggest practical examples where she could implement this lesson. For the next several minutes, granddaughter and grandfather sat exploring areas in my daughter's life where there was room for improvement. Eventually, the conversation turned more animated, and the laughter of both could be heard.

Since that day, I have thought of my father's approach in confronting my daughter's problem as a road tool for solving life's issues in general.

We all have an inner child within us, who is full of fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities.

Validate that inner child's fears; don't discredit them.

In order to solve a problem, first you must face it. Only once you look the "monster" squarely in the eye, can you hope to transform it.

Ignore the monster as meaningless, and you haven't solved the problem; you've escaped from it. On the other hand, if confront the issue, then you are ready to learn how to deal with it. Face your insecurities, and then you can learn to exploit them as a tool for growth.

Furthermore, teach a child, and your own inner child, how to deal with problems on his or her own level, using practical examples. Make the lessons real and relevant, by applying it to circumstances in his or her life.

Naomi will still occasionally awaken with this or another recurring nightmare. But these dreams are not coming with nearly as much frequency or intensity anymore. Moreover, the dreams no longer have the same power or devastating effect on her, since now she feels empowered to listen to their message.

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