Spiritual books are tricky things. Not only does the writer have to prove the validity of a spiritual viewpoint, but he must also cause a moment of enlightenment for the reader – an "aha!" moment which sheds a new light on some ancient human truth or mystery.
Rabbi Seymour Rossel has authored twenty-eight books and is the Director of the Department of Education of the UAHC, the parent body of Reform Judaism. An intellectual, academic and student, he clearly knows his subject. In addition to theology, he also seems knowledgeable about western classical history, dream methodology of the Senoi and spiritualities of other cultures such as Hinduism and Native American spirituality. Here is a man who has studied the basics of the human pilgrimage through life. His main focus, however, is the Jewish Bible, specifically, the dreams of important figures in the Scriptures.
Bible Dreams: The Spiritual Quest – How the Dreams in the Bible Speak to Us Today takes part of its title from the fact that so many of these Biblical heroes were on spiritual quests or at critical moments in their lives. Their dreams reflect this. Rossel has written a book which attempts to help the reader to see that the pilgrimage of these men, recorded by their dreams or visionary encounters with the numinous, are also meaningful for readers today.
While the book is written for both Jewish and Christian readers, the more Orthodox members of both these groups might raise an occasional eyebrow over some of Rossel's more modern declarations. For instance when he writes,
"In sum, Jacob may be wrestling an angel of God, a river demon, a demon of the night, the angel of death, the guardian spirit of Esau, his 'shadow', the child within him, or himself. Do we have an absolute need to know which of these is 'true'? Not in our spiritual forest." He then goes on to quote Jungian James Hillman that "literalism is sickness." Rossel has a tough job. He is trying to show the validity of dream interpretation, to be a modernist, and to affirm the Scriptures in his own way. It's a narrow road which might be welcomed by the less traditional in both religions but which might be seen as a waffling by more Orthodox Christian and Jewish readers. Others might see it as blasphemy or as someone reducing spiritual truths to a weaker, "more believable" discussion. Still others might see Rossel as someone who uses traditional sources such as Talmudic lessons to show a living organic faith. But as he himself asked, do we have to know which is true? It's probably a little bit of all of them.
In many of today's religious writings, especially writings about Scripture, truth often suffers because of the writer's need to seem modern, intellectual, and global. Some readers might suspect Rossel to be guilty of this. Yet the book is a linguistic and exegetical treasure trove, and readers who are less inclined to be tangled with questions of literal "truth" will like it. Rossel's book reminds me of the quote he uses to describe Solomon in 1 Kings 3:2 "And Solomon, though he loved the Eternal and followed the practices of his father David, also sacrificed and offered at the shrines."
Rossel's incisive modern interpretation of the dreams of these patriarchs certainly doesn't rob the Bible of its glory and quite often opens up a whole world of meaning for the reader, but he worships at the shrines of other spiritualities. Rossel's insistence on implying that those who see Bible stories traditionally and who believe in one truth or one interpretation of a truth will not sit well with certain more modern believers and will irk the more Orthodox readers.
Written in a friendly, sometimes difficult academic style, this honest book will make readers think of their own spiritual dreams and pilgrimages. It will open the eyes of its readers to the spiritual information, self-examinations and guidance that are inherent in dreams. For several "aha" moments, I recommend this book.