Blessings should not address the future . . . prayers should not address the past. . . . to cry out over that which is past is to utter a prayer in vain. (54a).The free association in this section is quite elegant. The distinction between what can be blessed and what can be prayed for is practical, acknowledging the natural order of things. A prayer to alter the past would, of course, be a prayer for no less than a miracle or a "nullification" of the law. And the above-cited text is a prelude for dealing with both the nullification and the miraculous.
The Mishnah speaks of nullifying the law "because it is time to act for Hashem," a suggestion that the commentators treat cautiously, permitting themselves to consider that nullifying the law (which would be the equivalent of dishonoring God's Name) is not permitted in any event, but the appearance of nullifying the law would be permitted if it spread goodwill and put God's name out there amongst the populace. Saul of Tarsus, of course, took it a step further. Nevertheless, recalling how important appearance is (see, for example, my blog entry on Berachos 14-17), this concession to the appearance of a gross impropriety is most certainly a revolutionary gesture.
The Mishnah also speaks of the obligation to recite a blessing when one sees a place where miracles were performed for the Jewish people. The Gemara asks for the source of this ruling and ultimately concludes that the blessing is only required for a miracle "performed for the masses . . . [which] implies that on a miracle performed for an individual we do not recite a blessing," making another distinction (consciously or not) between Jewish and Christian notions of the miraculous.
On 54b the Gemara confidently quantifies the number of people who need protection. The text begins, "Three types of people need protection . . ." Alas, as typically happens there are two variants of the three , followed by further variants. The bottom line is that we all need protection; we are all vulnerable.
There are also (at least) three things that "prolong the days and years of a person," including "one who spends a long time in the privy." (ArtScroll 55a fn18 explains that this "does not mean that a single session in the privy should be drawn out. Rather, it refers to [the] practice of frequently checking onself for the need to defecate . . ")
And while spending a long time in prayer will prolong life, "Anyone who prolongs his prayer and contemplates it, i.e. he expects it to be fulfilled, will eventually suffer heartache." Prayer in the absence of despair is folly.
Interpretation of Dreams
Beginning on 55a, where it says, "A dream that has not been interpreted is like a letter that has not been read," there is an extended description of rabbinic dream theory. In brief, the rabbis are in awe of the power of dream interpretation; even going so far as to ask, "if one feels his dream might bode ill, why have it interpreted and risk giving veracity to an adverse omen?" (55b2).
The dream interpreter Bar Hedya is known to interpret dreams as good omens only for those who pay him well, and we have numerous examples of his interpreting the identical dream positively or negatively depending on the fee he is given (56a). Rava is slow to catch on and is the victim of several bad interpretations, eventually leading to the prediction that "The king's treasury will be broken into and you will be arrested as a thief"-- which indeed occurs on the very next day. Even so, Rava continued to pay poorly until after the interpretation was rendered to him that he would receive two blows with clubs and, following the actual two blows which he soon thereafter received, he interrupted his assailant and told him, "Two is enough for me; I saw only two in my dream." From that point forward, he paid handsomely for his dream interpretation and the omens turned out more favorably.
Dream interpretation seems to be a source of great amusement here, and other examples in this text suggest that word play is a subconscious tool within dreams. It may not be too much to suggest that Freud's theory is not a fresh invention but a distillation of ancient rabbinic humor. Take my dream, please!