Owning your own business. Making partner. Buying a quaint house on the beach to watch beautiful sunsets every day. Can you make these dreams a reality through positive thinking and focused action?
For thousands of influencers, from celebrities like Oprah to modern self-help gurus, the answer is yes – through a process called manifestation. In the words of Angelina Lombardo, the author of Spiritual Entrepreneur, “Manifesting is making everything you want to feel and experience a reality… via your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and emotions.” By changing your mindset and behaviors and abandoning fear and negative self-talk, you can make your dreams come true. In other words, manifesting is a modern expression of the belief that motivated Theodor Herzl to launch the political Zionist movement in 1897: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Can we manifest our dreams? Even more importantly, does God believe we should?
The Secret of Jewish Survival
From the very start, the remarkable people of the Bible were different because they dared to dream. Abraham and Sarah are revered by billions today precisely because they dreamed of a different world in which God would be known to all mankind – and then dedicated their lives to making their dream a reality.
But what really makes the Bible unique is its demand that an entire nation – the people of Israel – be dreamers as well. “When God brings back those who return to Zion, we shall be like dreamers” (Psalm 126:1). The Bible’s goal is to awaken us all from complacency, and to inspire us to dream of a better and holier world.
The Amida, the holiest prayer in Judaism recited three times daily, is a “how-to” guide for becoming a dreamer. Instead of asking for help on an upcoming exam, we ask for wisdom – “bestow upon us Your wisdom, understanding and knowledge.” Rather than asking for protection from antisemitism, we shoot for the stars – “raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land.”
For close to two millennia, the people of Israel were scattered all over the world, a vulnerable minority community lacking the power to manifest its national dreams. Yet over and over again, God’s people insisted on remembering their dreams, verbalizing them in prayer and actualizing them through holy deeds, or mitzvot. Manifesting is the secret to Israel’s survival, even as larger and more powerful empires have disappeared from the world stage. The establishment of the modern State of Israel, against all odds, is proof that it works.
A Dream Worth Manifesting
Bible believers are dreamers – and we believe we can and must make our dreams a reality. But what, ultimately, are we dreaming of?
In a moving psalm customarily recited by Jews during the high holiday season, King David writes:
One [thing] I ask of God, that I do seek – that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of God and to visit His Temple every morning” (Psalm 27:4).
David reminds us that not all dreams are created equal. God did not put us on this earth to dream of material comforts, high social status or fame. We are here for a loftier purpose – to heal the pain and brokenness of humanity by doing our part to bring God’s glory to this world. As we repeatedly say in our prayers: “May God’s great name be glorified and sanctified!”
Do our personal dreams further this goal? The Bible challenges us to reflect on our dreams, and whether they are worth dreaming of in the first place.
Is that beach house worthy of your longing? If your dream is to welcome others into your home with love and acceptance, or to look out upon the sea each day, in awe of God’s beautiful world, the answer is yes. It all comes down to our motivations.
Many Jewish parents have the custom to bless their children just before leaving for the synagogue on Yom Kippur eve. For this beautiful moment, Rabbi Abraham Danzig (1748–1820) wrote a moving blessing: “May it be the will of our Father in Heaven that He place in your heart… that your craving be for Torah and mitzvot.” The greatest blessing a parent can give a child is a dream worth living for.
When God Says “No” To Our Dreams
“It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. But then you started to grow up and everything you did closed the tunnel in some more. You broke your arm climbing a tree and you ruled out being a baseball pitcher. You failed every math test you took and you canceled any hope of being a scientist. Like that. On and on through the years until you were stuck.” (Carol Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home).
We are meant to dream holy dreams and to manifest those dreams to the best of our abilities. But even when we follow our manifesting guides to the T, sometimes God says “no.”
Even more than our parents and grandparents, we have fallen prey to the illusion of control. Yes, we possess free will – but fate, or God’s will, can put a stop to our dreams. Believers must find the humility to accept God’s will, to believe that it is somehow for the best, even when we lack understanding.
At moments like these, we are tempted to give up dreaming altogether. As Jackson Browne once sang, “Now if I seem to be afraid to live the life that I have made in song, well it’s just that I’ve been losing for so long.” But this is not the Jewish way.
The sages state: “When a person is brought to judgment [in the next world], he is asked… did you yearn for salvation?” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). When we leave this world, we will not be asked if we succeeded in manifesting our dreams. Our lives will be judged not only by what we accomplish, for that is not always in our control. But we will be asked if we “yearned for salvation,” if we tried, with all our hearts, to manifest the greatest dream of all.
“A man is what he thinks all day long.” Whether you succeed or not, don’t give up on manifesting your dreams; it is the journey, not the destination, that counts.
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.