"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
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,
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
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
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
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