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Inception: In Your Dreams

Inception: In Your Dreams

The Kabbalah of Christopher Nolan’s new film Inception.


It turns out that my mundane reality of morning school runs and chai tea lattes on the way to the office may not be as real as I thought, at least according to a new hit movie.

Directed by Hollywood hotshot Christopher Nolan (of The Dark Knight fame), the movie Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and turns out to be that rarest of things: a big screen blockbuster with brains.

This complex, visually innovative science fiction/ heist film explores the phenomenon of lucid dreaming. We’ve probably all experienced uncanny moments of self-awareness during REM sleep – knowing that we’re dreaming while we’re dreaming, and maybe even trying to control the narrative. Inception depicts what you might call “lucid dreaming on steroids.”

While we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and replenish their energy with the heavenly source.

DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a veteran “extractor” who enters the dreams of others to obtain otherwise inaccessible information. Not surprisingly, he’s handsomely rewarded for this ability, but this arduous avocation has also cost Cobb the trappings of a normal existence.

In exchange for a chance to get his old life back, Cobb must now perform an “inception”: instead of extracting dreams, Cobb is assigned to implant a valuable idea into a target’s mind while he sleeps.

The act of inception is far more difficult and dangerous than extraction, but also more lucrative.

(And just think of how useful such a gift would be in the real world. I could finally get my children to clean up after themselves, and maybe even reprogram the barista to get my order right.)

The movie Inception works on many levels, as a philosophical puzzle and as sheer glossy entertainment. As a rabbi, I couldn’t help thinking of the Kabbalist teaching that while we sleep, our souls leave our bodies and ascend to their heavenly source in order to replenish energy.

According to Kabbalistic thinking, when we sleep 1 out of 60 parts of our soul have now left the body, leaving only that 59/60 to sustain us physically. In this disembodied state, the soul encounters visions usually off limits to within our everyday world.

I also noticed that the movie Inception even has a character named Yusuf, a chemist who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream world.

According to the biblical story, Joseph (or Yusuf) was blessed with the ability to interpret dreams, a rare skill that was highly valued by the Egyptian royal court. As such, his talents granted Joseph access to the highest echelons of society. He eventually became the second most powerful man in the empire, even though he was a foreigner who’d recently spent time in jail!

If the mystics and sages are right, our life is just a dream. In an instant, we can be transported to another dimension (no special effects or fictional narcotics required.)

Kabbalah considers our physical world an illusion, a temporary residence, and not true reality. So stop existing and start dreaming!

July 31, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, August 22, 2013 4:02 AM

Vision within Vision

“There is a visionary mirror [Shekhinah] reflecting supernal colors [the upper sefirot], envisioned in that visionary mirror; there is vision within vision, and vision within vision, one above the other, all poised on specific rungs, presiding, called night vision [Daniel 2:19]. Through them spread all dreams of the world, these resembling those above” (Zohar 1:196a).

(6) Pop Chasid, August 20, 2010 7:21 PM

Love it.

Love that people are looking at this movie on a deep level!

(5) , August 5, 2010 12:49 AM

This is a nice way to sublimate a popular movie. I think the Talmud says that sleep is 1/60 of death, which I understood to mean that 1/60 of the soul departs, leaving the other 59/60 in this world, rather than the reverse as stated above.

(4) Anonymous, August 4, 2010 11:39 AM


This movie was fantastic! Sadly, it's one of the first movies I've seen in a while that was actually good! I'm sure if you get nit-picky, every movie has holes in them. Well, maybe just the good ones that dare to have a complex plot. Seriously awesome film, I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Chris's other famous mind thriller, Memento.

(3) Dave, August 4, 2010 11:02 AM


Someone just tweeted this piece. Amazing movie and amazing article. Very deep - I will never think the same about sleeping again.

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