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Mike's Dream

by Doug Lipman

A friend of mine, Mike, was taking an evening class from a Hasidic rabbi. After five or six weeks, one night Mike had a dream.

He dreamed he was attending a symposium on the subject, "Are there things we can tell our psychologist that we can't tell our rabbi?" In the dream, a panel of scholars was presenting papers on this subject, when Mike impatiently jumped to his feet from the audience and interrupted them.

"Wait, I have something to say about this subject," he said in his dream. "There are things I can tell my psychologist that I can't tell my rabbi. Because if I told them to my rabbi ... they would upset him."

The dream ended, and Mike did not remember it when he woke up.

He only remembered the dream the next week, sitting in the class given by the Hasidic rabbi. Should he tell it to the rabbi? Probably it would freak him out. What would a Hasidic rabbi know of a panel discussion? Worse, what would he think of telling things to a psychologist? When the class was over, Mike got up to leave. But then something prompted him to go over to the rabbi.

"Rabbi, can I speak to you? I had a dream this week." And Mike told him his dream about the panel discussion. Then he waited for the rabbi to tell him exactly what to do about the dream.

But the rabbi responded with that one-word question that can never be answered, "Nu?"

If you don't know, "Nu?" means, "what now?" or "what do you want with me" or "let's get on with it." It means different things in different circumstances.

If you are a single adult visiting your grandmother, for example, and she says, "Nu?" then she means, "Are you dating anyone special?"

And if you are going steady with someone, she says, "Nu?" meaning, "Are you getting engaged?"

Then, when you are engaged, she says, "Nu?" meaning, "So when are you setting the date?"

When you are married, she says, "Nu?" meaning, "Any children on the way?"

When you have children, she says, "Nu?" meaning, "And when are they coming to visit me?"

When the children are too old for you to bring them, she says, "Nu?" meaning, "Are they dating someone special?"

And this was the question that the rabbi asked to Mike.

Mike was not amused. "Well, can you help me interpret the dream, or not?"

The rabbi paused a long while, and then gave a sigh.

Mike heard that sigh, and knew the rabbi was upset. The same old thing was happening again! He wanted help, and here was another authority figure not being able to just listen to him without getting his own feelings involved. "Just like I thought!" He turned and walked out of the classroom, leaving the rabbi sitting at his desk.

The next week, Mike had to force himself to go to the class. He could scarcely listen to the rabbi. At the end of class, he got up quickly and started for the door.

"Mike!" The rabbi ran after him. "I would like to tell you a little story."

Mike turned to listen. This is the story that the rabbi told to Mike:

"You know, my teacher was a very famous rabbi. In his family, the oldest son had been a rabbi for so many generations, they might have been rabbis all the way back to Moses.

"But in one generation, it was the younger son who became the rabbi. And already when he was five years old they knew that the younger son was the right one to be the rabbi.

"How did they know? You see, one day, the two little boys, age five and seven, were playing their favorite game. Since they were from a family of rabbis, and already back to Moses they were rabbis, their favorite game was ... rabbi and hasid. The hasid had to come to the rabbi with a difficult problem. The rabbi had to solve it.

"It was the younger one's turn to be the hasid. He thought of an incredibly difficult problem for his older brother.

"'Rabbi, tell me what to do. It is Yom Kippur, the day for fasting. I broke open an egg and ate half of it. My problem is, should I eat the other half? I already broke the law against eating, anyway. And if I don't eat it, it will spoil, so I will be guilty of a new sin, wasting food.'"

"The older brother listened to this ingenious problem, all the while stroking his imaginary beard. Then he launched into his answer at length. He quoted the Talmud, he quoted the commentaries, he told stories. He gave the definitive answer.

"The younger brother shook his head. 'No, you'll never be a rabbi.'

"'I'll never be a rabbi? What do you mean? That was a more scholarly, sensible answer than most grown-up rabbis could give!'

"The younger one said, 'No. You forgot to sigh.'"

Standing there in the classroom, Mike's teacher said, "You see, Mike, when someone comes to a rabbi--or a good psychologist--with a problem or a sin or a weakness, the rabbi must find the same problem in himself. Then he must fix it. And when he fixes it in himself, he sighs.

"So, Mike: nu?"

Mike Brown came to his first story-sharing session in the late 1970's and told this story, which had just happened to him. Years later, I asked his permission to tell it. He was amazed; he had forgotten it completely. He gave his permission!

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This page was last updated on Monday, March 10, 2003
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